Tuesday, January 23, 2018

California Court Advances Rail Plan

By Karen Robes Meeks

BNSF Railway and Port of Los Angeles officials said Friday they will discuss how to proceed with their $500 million railyard project following the outcome of a recent California Court of Appeal decision.

Approved by the port and city of Los Angeles in 2013, the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) near-dock intermodal rail project has been tied up in litigation. Several lawsuits filed by the city of Long Beach, environmental and neighborhood groups contend that the project’s environmental impact report (EIR) did not adequately address SCIG’s impacts to neighborhoods and the environment.

In 2016, a court sided with Long Beach and others, ruling that additional study was needed on the project’s environmental impacts and invalidated parts of the EIR.

Los Angeles and BNSF appealed the decision and on January 12 the California Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s 2016 ruling on all but one EIR analysis issue: ambient air concentrations.

Extract from the ruling:

“We conclude that the exhaustion requirement that generally apply to parties contesting the adequacy of an environmental impact report do not apply to the Attorney General and that the FEIR fails to adequately consider air quality impacts of the project, particularly impacts to ambient air pollutant concentrations and cumulative impacts of such pollutant concentrations. With respect to all other claimed deficiencies, we conclude that the analysis in the FEIR satisfies the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.” Port and BNSF officials praised the decision.

"We are pleased that the court has reversed the lower court ruling, correctly applied the law and maintained the existing scope of CEQA,” said Roger Nober, Executive Vice President Law and Corporate Affairs and Chief Legal Officer. “We are currently reviewing the ruling and will coordinate with the Port of Los Angeles regarding next steps.”

If built, SCIG would allow cargo to be loaded by rail four miles away from the port, eliminating 1.3 million annual truck trips needed to deliver goods to railyards some 24 miles away.