Tuesday, March 12, 2013

POLA Approves BNSF Rail Yard EIR

After a full day of testimony by more than 100 people in favor of and opposed to the project, the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commission on March 7 approved an environmental impact report for the proposed Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) intermodal rail yard.

With the EIR now approved, construction is due to begin later this year on the near-dock rail yard, which would transfer containerized cargo between trucks and railcars about four miles north of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, primarily on land owned by the City of Los Angeles Harbor Dept., as well as on adjacent private land in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Carson.

The near-dock rail container transfer facility represents a private investment of more than $500 million by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which plans to develop and operate the nation’s greenest intermodal rail yard on a 185-acre site.

The project had major support from local labor unions, which touted the hundreds of jobs the project is expected to create, however it was decried by local residents and environmental activists who have said that the facility would bring more noise and air pollution to an area that has already suffered from plenty of both over the years due to port-related activities.

Among those testifying against the EIR was Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, who said the impacts on those living near the project would be too great. He, like dozens of others who testified, urged the board to send the EIR back for revision.

Among those for the EIR was Steve Agor, director of business development for civil engineering company Skanska USA, who testified that he believed BNSF would act in the best interest of the region.

“At Skanska, we live, work and play within the communities in which we construct major infrastructure project,” he said. “We take great efforts to employ skilled, available, local work force. BNSF’s SCIG project mirrors our core value to provide sustainable solutions, in a safe and fiscally responsible manner.”

Although the Harbor Commission didn’t reject the EIR, it did amend language in a project condition requiring BNSF to implement new zero-emission technologies after the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach both determine it is technically, operationally and commercially feasible.

The Harbor Commission also amended an EIR mitigation measure to require BNSF to implement other emission reduction technology after it becomes technically, operationally and commercially feasible.

The project is expected to reduce truck traffic, freeway congestion and air pollution by eliminating about 1.3 million truck trips annually along a 24-mile stretch of the Long Beach (710) Freeway to BNSF’s Hobart Yard near downtown LA.

Construction is due to begin later this year could create an estimated 1,500 direct and indirect jobs per year over three years, according to BNSF. The rail yard is expected to generate up to 1,096 long-term jobs at full capacity when it opens in 2016.