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Friday, October 16, 2015

Alaska, DOJ End Exxon Valdez Litigation

By Mark Edward Nero

On Oct. 15, the US and Alaska governments dropped their remaining legal claims against Exxon Mobil Corp regarding the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, saying wildlife affected by the disaster have sufficiently recovered.

The US Department of Justice and the Alaska Department of Law said they’re bringing to a close the federal and state judicial actions against ExxonMobil Corp. because Alaska harlequin ducks and sea otters thought in 2006 to have been impacted by lingering subsurface oil have recovered to pre-spill population levels.

“Scientists have concluded that exposure to the subsurface oil is no longer biologically significant to these species,” the DOJ said in a prepared statement. “Accordingly, the governments have decided to withdraw their 2006 request to Exxon to fund bio-restoration of subsurface lingering oil patches.”

The March 1989 grounding of the tanker vessel Exxon Valdez on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound spilled nearly 11 million gallons of North Slope crude oil that ultimately contaminated about 1,500 miles of Alaska’s coastline.

It affected three national parks, four national wildlife refuges, a national forest, five state parks, four state critical habitat areas, a state game sanctuary and killed enormous numbers of birds, marine mammals and fish and disrupted the lives and livelihoods of Alaskans who rely on those resources.

On Oct. 8, 1991, a US District Court judge approved both a plea agreement resolving criminal charges against Exxon and a settlement agreement between Exxon and the United States and the State of Alaska resolving all civil claims pertaining to the spill.

Under the plea agreement, the company paid $125 million for a criminal fine and restitution. The settlement required Exxon to pay the governments $900 million over 10 years to reimburse past costs and fund the restoration of injured natural resources.

One unresolved aspect of the 1991 settlement had been a provision entitled “Reopener for Unknown Injury” that allowed the two governments to seek up to an additional $100 million if they later found substantial losses or declines in populations, habitats or species that could not have been anticipated at the time of the settlement.

“Although we will not be pursuing Exxon for additional damages, our decision today does not close the book on lingering oil,” Alaska Attorney General Craig Richards said. “We are fortunate to have alternatives for dealing with this issue that can be undertaken without the constraints of the Reopener language.”

Grays Harbor Approves CNG Facility

By Mark Edward Nero

At an Oct. 13 meeting, the Port of Grays Harbor Commission approved a ten-year lease for 4.3 acres with Xpress Natural Gas LLC, paving the way for the port to eventually become landlord to a $3 million compressed natural gas facility.

Xpress Natural Gas has been given approval to build a compressed natural gas distribution terminal that in the port’s Satsop Business Park area that would utilize the existing natural gas line to fill portable tubes for transport to industrial customers throughout the region.

An additional $2 million would be invested in the fleet of CNG trucks and trailers that will service XNG’s customers. The operation would be manned 24 hours per day and XNG said it expects to employ 20-25 people at full build out, in addition to the construction and trucking service jobs that would be generated.

XNG operates similar facilities in New York and Maine.

“Energy is a growing sector of our nation’s economy and we are excited a new business will be able to take advantage of one of the Park’s great assets, the natural gas line,” said Alissa Shay, Satsop Business Park’s manager of business development.

XNG is a Boston-based logistics and transportation company that manages a “virtual pipeline” that provides trucked natural gas solutions to locations where a pipeline does not provide gas service.

XNG operates one of the largest fleet of high-capacity, all-composite CNG trailers in North America and is the only provider of CNG services using CNG-powered tractor-trucks.

Satsop Business Park is less than two hours southwest of Seattle and two hours north of Portland. The 1,800-acre mixed-use business and industrial park is also 30 minutes from Olympia, Wash. and is home to over 30 businesses on 600 acres of developed land.

POLA Greenlights Waterfront Promenade

By Mark Edward Nero

The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners has approved the design contract for the future Wilmington Waterfront Promenade by unanimously approving Boston-based design firm Sasaki Associates, Inc. to conduct engineering, architectural and landscaping design services for the $52.7 million project.

The promenade is designed to measure about 1,300 feet in length and 30 feet wide, and provide public access to the water’s edge in front and adjacent to the Banning’s Landing Community Center. From Berths 184 to 186 behind the promenade, the project is to include a 2.5-acre public pedestrian plaza.

A 1.25-acre parking court and/or event space will also be constructed between the promenade and Water Street. Additionally, landscaping and a parking lot will be added north of the new plaza.

The promenade was among six public improvement projects – three in Wilmington and three in San Pedro – approved last February as part of the Port of LA’s Public Access Investment Plan. The engineering, architectural and landscaping design phase of the promenade project is expected to cost $3.19 million and be completed by mid-2018.

Design of the project entails street realignment to parallel existing railroad tracks, and a freight facility currently on the property is expected to be demolished. Project improvements also entails landscaping, irrigation, signage, lighting, as well as site furnishing like public seating, bike racks and public drinking fountains.

“Engaging a design firm for the promenade project puts us one step closer to bringing this vibrant and highly visible improvement to the Wilmington community,” Ambassador Vilma Martinez, president of the Los Angeles Harbor Commission said.

Contractor Sasaki Associates was also the lead design firm on the 30-acre Wilmington Waterfront Park, which was completed in 2011.

USCG Removes Fuel from Derelict Tug

By Mark Edward Nero

The US Coast Guard, Washington State Department of Ecology and Global Diving & Salvage removed petroleum products from the tug Vigorous at Ballard Oil Co. in the Lake Washington Ship Canal on Oct. 13 after the derelict vessel was thought to be in danger of sinking.

The Vigorous, whose owner could not be contacted by the Coast Guard, had an estimated 20,000 gallons of oily bilge waste and an unknown amount of product in the fuel tanks, according to the USCG.

The Coast Guard Incident Management Division from Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound received notification Oct. 8 of a possible sinking and presumably derelict vessel after Ballard Oil personnel noticed the tug was sitting abnormally low in the water.

USCG Puget Sound incident management crewmembers conducted a pollution assessment of the vessel and found a significant amount of oily water in the engine room, but the tug was determined not to be in danger of sinking. A containment boom was placed around the vessel.

“Our first priority is to remove all of the hazardous materials from the vessel,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Nick Debrum, marine science technician with the Incident Management Division, explained. “Doing so will prevent any pollutants from leaving the vessel and decrease the risk of any harm coming to the environment.”

The USCG says money from the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund was used to cover costs associated with the recovery efforts.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

ILWU Appeals NLRB Ruling

By Mark Edward Nero

The International Longshore & Warehouse Union has officially appealed a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board ordering the union and two locals to not engage in activities at a Port of Portland container terminal that violate federal labor laws.

The banned activities cited by the NLRB include engaging in slowdowns and work stoppages, and using threats and coercion to disrupt the operations of ICTSI Oregon, which operates Portland’s Terminal 6. On Oct. 1, the ILWU and locals 8 and 40 filed a petition with the US Court of Appeals asking it to review the labor board’s late-September decision, which affirms an earlier decision issued by Administrative Law Judge William Schmidt.

Portland’s labor issues are related to a jurisdiction battle between ICTSI, the ILWU and another union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which date back to June 2012. The two unions fought over disputed jobs involving the plugging/unplugging and monitoring of refrigerated containers at Terminal 6.

Since then, workers have walked off the job numerous times due to what the longshore union calls “multiple pay disputes and associated grievances” associated with the “mismanagement” of the terminal.

Elvis Ganda, CEO of ICTSI Oregon said ICTSI is gratified by the NLRB’s September ruling, which rejected the ILWU’s legal arguments.

“Hopefully, this decision will bring us one step closer to ending the ILWU’s orchestrated and illegal campaign to undermine the success of Terminal 6, and to convincing the shipping companies to return to the Port of Portland,” Ganda said in a statement. “A fully functioning, productive Terminal 6 is critical to the regional economy and benefits local businesses, importers, exporters, farmers and workers across various industries – including rank-and-file ILWU longshoremen who have suffered a substantial loss of work as a result of their leaderships’ actions.”

POLB Has Busiest Quarter Ever

By Mark Edward Nero


Thanks in part to the best September in its 104-year history, the Port of Long Beach moved enough cargo volume to achieve its busiest quarter ever recently, something port officials say signals a return to pre-recession trade levels.

Measured by individual containers of freight, cargo volume at the Port of Long Beach climbed 4.1 percent in September compared to the same period last year, to 655,624 20-foot equivalent units of boxed cargo, the port revealed Oct. 12.

The year’s third quarter – July through September – topped two million TEUs in a first for the port, and improved 14.8 percent over the third quarter of 2014.

This year's third quarter saw 10.6 percent more imports and 10.5 percent more exports, compared to the third quarter of 2014.

For September alone, imports dipped 1.9 percent compared to the same month last year, to 332,909 TEUs. Exports grew 6.1 percent to 125,639 TEUs. Empty containers rose 14.6 percent to 197,076 TEUs.

Many of the popular Halloween and holiday items now on US store shelves were brought through the Long Beach harbor in recent months. Retailers have been stocking costumes, decorations and other goods in order to meet consumer demand.

The rise in volumes is a complete turnaround from the first quarter of the year when the port was losing container traffic, something the port attributed at the time to terminal congestion and supply chain challenges occurring during several months of labor negotiations.

“In recent months, Long Beach has seen a robust return of once-diverted cargo,” Port of Long Beach CEO Jon Slangerup said.

Through the first nine months of 2015 the port has seen a 5.2 percent increase in cargo volume compared to the same period last year. At this rate, the port would finish the year with more than seven million TEUs for only the third time in its history, the last time being 2007.

More details on the cargo numbers are available at www.polb.com/stats.

Oakland Imports Up for 7th Month

By Mark Edward Nero

Containerized import volume was up for a seventh-straight month at the Port of Oakland in September, the port said Oct. 12.

Oakland handled 1.6 percent more containerized imports last month than it did during the same month a year ago, according to data.

The import rally erased a wintertime decline in Oakland, and import totals for the first nine months of 2015 are now even with last year, according to the port. This represents a significant turnaround from January and February when import volume dropped nearly 40 percent.

“We’re pleased with the ongoing buildup of import cargo,” Maritime Director John Driscoll said. “Our job now is to maintain the momentum.”

But despite the growth in imports, overall containerized cargo volume – imports, exports and empty containers – fell 4.8 percent in September, the port said, caused mainly by a 12.6-percent drop in exports.

Two factors dampened export volume, according to the port: continued strength of the US dollar, which makes American goods more expensive overseas; and the economic slowdown in China, which has curbed its demand for foreign commodities.

Overall container volumes have been inconsistent during 2015; of the nine months measured so far, five saw increases in volumes, while the other four – January, February, June and September, suffered losses compared to the same months in 2014.

Complete Port of Oakland cargo statistics are available at http://portofoakland.com/maritime/containerstats.aspx.

Cordero Reconfirmed as Commissioner

By Mark Edward Nero

Mario Cordero was reconfirmed as a Federal Maritime Commissioner on Oct. 8. Cordero joined the Commission as a Commissioner on June 3, 2011, having been nominated by Pres. Barack Obama on Sept. 17, 2010, and confirmed by the Senate on April 14, 2011.

Cordero was designated chair of the Federal Maritime Commission on April 1, 2013 by President Obama. Prior to his appointment to the Maritime Commission, Cordero was an attorney in private practice, an adjunct professor of Political Science at Long Beach City College, and served eight years on the Port of Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners.

As Long Beach Harbor Commission president, Cordero led one of the port’s most successful initiatives, the Green Port Policy, which has been nationally recognized, and helped redefine cargo movement worldwide.

“I am honored that President Obama has entrusted me to serve the American people in this important capacity, and grateful to the Senate for this confirmation,” Cordero said in a statement. “As the nation’s premier regulatory agency for international ocean transportation, my colleagues and I face significant challenges as we seek to reduce congestion, protect the public from unfair and deceptive practices, and keep international trade flowing in an efficient and reliable manner.”

“I am fortunate to have the support of a small but dedicated staff of professionals to execute this vital mission,” he added.