Long Beach harbor leaders agreed Monday with city officials that a controversial railyard project near the city's westside would cause environmental problems and harm nearby businesses.
The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners voted 4-0 to direct port staff to work with the city to quickly resolve the issues they raised about the $500 million Southern California International Gateway railyard proposed by BNSF Railway Co. at the Port of Los Angeles. Commissioner Thomas Fields recused himself.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners approved the railyard project's environmental impact report and a 50-year lease agreement with BNSF. The city of Long Beach appealed the commissioners' decision on the report.
The Los Angeles City Council is expected to weigh in on the project's report and the lease agreement in the coming weeks.
Long Beach's issues include the displacement of businesses, a commitment to zero-emissions trucks and a buffer zone that would protect schools, parks and homes abutting the proposed the 153-acre facility near Terminal Island Freeway, which would allow trucks to load containers and put them on trains closer to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, rather than having trucks drive 24 miles away to the BNSF Hobart Yard.
"Everybody can do better on this project than what has been done so far," Harbor Board President Susan E. Anderson Wise said.
Until Monday, the Port of Long Beach, which would benefit from the new railyard, took no formal position on the project, though port officials have generally favored rail facilities near the ports to move cargo in a quicker, more sustainable way.
The BNSF facility, if built, would be able to handle up to 2.8 million container units from the ports, including 570,800 units in 2016, the first year of operation, port officials said.
Several civic officials and business organizations support the project, saying that the project would feature green technology, take 1.5 million trucks off the Long Beach (710) Freeway annually and create about 1,500 direct and indirect jobs.
"This is a good project for both ports," said Tommy Faavae of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' Local 11. "You should embrace rail infrastructure because rail infrastructure is here to stay. "
But health and environmental groups and residents in the area oppose the project, saying it will worsen traffic and health issues already affecting the neighborhoods.
Some of the harbor commissioners said that the project's proximity to neighborhoods cannot be ignored.
There's "something wrong about the project if you're going to build a railyard ... near a school," said Commissioner Nick Sramek, a West Long Beach resident. "It's just the wrong place for a railyard. "
More mitigation needs to be done, harbor leaders said.
"L.A. needs to treat Long Beach like a neighbor, not just dump the project over here without mitigation and changes to the project and work with us to really come up with a good solution," Sramek said.