Sharp Contrasts At Hearing On Recirculated Draft EIR For BNSF-Sought Railyard ("So. Cal Int'l Gateway" or SCIG)

  • Residents, Scientists, NRDC Object To Worsening Pollution At WLB Schools, Parks & Neighborhoods
  • BNSF, Industry & Union Interests Say Facility Will Be Cleaner, Reduce Net Pollution And Bring Jobs
  • Councilman Johnson Sends Sternly Worded Letter Objecting To Lack of WLB Hearing on Recirculated Draft EIR


    (Oct. 20, 2012 w/ text added Oct. 22) -- A large crowd attended an Oct. 18 public hearing in Wilmington held by the Port of Los Angeles on its Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the BNSF-sought WLB-adjacent "Southern CA International Gateway" (SCIG) railyard project.

    Opponents included a coalition of grassroots groups (the "Los Angeles Port Working Group") that includes the West Long Beach Association. They say the new railyard, sought by BNSF on property owned by the Port of Los Angeles roughly four miles from the docks, will worsen pollution nearby and create unacceptable health impacts for WLB areas that include two schools, a park, a day care center and nearby homes.

    Outside the hearing (held at Banning's Landing in Wilmington), opponents demonstrated against the proposed facility. Inside the hearing, community members, scientific experts and lawyers from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) testified against the proposed railyard and the recirculated draft EIR proffered to justify it.

    A participant in the hearing estimates roughly 500 people were present; 250 were allowed to sit inside with others watching outside via a video feed; a Fire Marshal wouldn't allow more people inside and at least one bus with residents reportedly had to leave without going inside.

    NRDC attorney Morgan Wyenn published a blog dispatch (with photo below) on the group's website, click here.

    Photo source: NRDC blog dispatch by Morgan Wyenn, click here.

    Ms. Wyenn wrote in part, "As someone said to me at the hearing last night, one side says the rail yard will reduce air pollution, the other side says it will increase air pollution -- someone must be wrong." Her blog dispatch states:

    BNSF and the Port claim that the project will reduce air pollution because most of the trucks that would normally haul the cargo to a rail yard about 20 miles inland (called the Hobart rail yard) would instead be able to travel just a few miles to the SCIG. This would result in less air pollution all along the route on the 710 freeway that goes to the Hobart yard.

    The problem is that now all those trucks will be concentrated in a small area, close to several schools and neighborhoods. And the Hobart yard is not going to sit empty. There will still be thousands of trucks traveling along the 710 to Hobart -- so residents living along the 710 route will not see a decrease in air pollution.

    BNSF says its proposed SCIG railyard [Sept. 23 release] is "designed to be the greenest intermodal facility in the United States [and] will allow containers to be loaded onto rail just four miles from the docks, rather than traveling 24 miles on local roads and the 710 freeway to downtown rail facilities. SCIG will allow 1.5 million more containers to move by more efficient and environmentally preferred rail through the Alameda Corridor each year, greatly reducing truck traffic congestion in Southern California."

    Source: EIR illustration

    Among those raising criticisms with the environmental review was Andrea Hricko, Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at USC & Director of Community Outreach and Education at the Southern CA Environmental Health Sciences Center. In oral testimony accompanied by written materials, Prof. Hricko stated:

    ...Since 2005, public health experts have pointed out that it is completely inappropriate to build a polluting rail yard within 250-1000 feet of schools, daycare centers, parks and lower income veteransí homes. Hundreds of scientific papers now show that children and others who live in close proximity to traffic pollution are more likely to develop asthma, heart disease and other illnesses.

    But the EIR in essence dismisses the issue of proximity to traffic pollution. It goes as far as admitting that government agencies have issued guidelines saying that siting of homes and schools in close proximity to rail yards is an incompatible land use! [Citation: 3.8-17]

    And then it goes to great length to argue that the guidance is not mandatory. As in, neither the Port of Los Angeles nor the BNSF railroad intends to abide by guidelines that government agencies put in place to protect the health of children and others vulnerable groups, based on the latest science.

    As a result, we have a proposal for a rail yard that not only violates land use, smart growth and public health principles -- but that also violates environmental justice principles. For the very first time, the EIR finally admits that after building the BNSF SCIG rail yard facility, significant health impacts from air pollution will remain on lower-income, minority communities...those communities to the immediate east of the rail yard.

    I have examined the persistent claim by BNSF that building the SCIG will take trucks off the 710 Freeway. Right now, 40 foot containers with imports go to the Hobart Yard in Commerce. When the SCIG is built, all those 40 foot container will go to SCIG. The press videos almost make it seem like Hobart Yard will be empty, no more trucks up the I-710 -- how great for those residents!!!

    But not so fast, as far back as 2006, the head of BNSF made it clear that there were plans for Hobart even if the SCIG were built: "Hobart is the largest inland intermodal facility in the world, and we look forward to being able to continue that as well." [Citation: Town Hall Los Angeles, Keynote Address "Will Southern California Have Adequate Freight Transportation Capacity In the Future?" at September 14, 2006.]

    For the first time in the revised EIR, it is clear that if the SCIG is built, BNSF plans a massive expansion of its Hobart Yard.

    Somehow BNSF and the Port of L.A. don't like to focus attention on the Hobart Yard.

    Maybe here's why: Let's fast forward to 2035: A new Appendix G4 in the revised EIR allows one to do the math.

    If the SCIG is built, in 2035, it will have more than 5,000 trucks A DAY going to it.

    But not only will the Hobart Yard still exist, by 2035 it will be so big that it will handle a million TEUs or container units a year MORE than it handles today!!! That means LOTS of 53 foot transloaded containers and small mix of 40 foot containers going to Hobart. The result?? TWICE as many trucks on the 710 as today. Here are my calculations, if anyone wants to see them.

    [Prof. Hricko submitted an attachment citing Hobart Yard statistics after expansion and with the SCIG, based on App G4 of Recirculated Draft EIR. To view this document, click here (Word docx file).]

    BNSF, Environ and the Port of L.A. have teamed up to try to convince the public that the SCIG will result in fewer trucks on the 710 Freeway -- but the math simply does not support their claims.

    Oh...and what about trains? Today there are 15 trains a day leaving BNSF Hobart. If the SCIG is built and Hobart expands there will be 38 trains a day leaving from SCIG and Hobart combined. More than 2 Ĺ times as many trains than today...with 3-4 locomotives apiece.

    The EIR says...almost as an afterthought, oh, yes, we have a CAAP, clean air action measure requiring cleaner locomotives. But then it says, oh, you know, letís not worry about cleaner trains in this EIR document...let's save that for when we negotiate a lease. Oh, and by the way, letís have that lease be 50 years instead of 30.

    To protect public health, we certainly do not want a 50 year lease that prohibits the port from taking action to clean up emissions when necessary. We have already gone that route with the UP ICTF, and it has resulted in high diesel emissions in West Long Beach that the Port of L.A. claims it can do nothing about. 50 years.

    Finally, the cancer risk. This EIR says there is a high cancer risk for folks who very close to the site of the rail yard. Then they subtract the cancer risk from what it would be if that person lived near the 710 Freeway. more elevated risk? Think about whether or not that makes sense.

    I suggest that this revised DEIR be revised once again, to TRY and get the numbers right. Perhaps this time the revision should be by a firm other than a firm that does not have such historical ties or potential conflicts of interest with the both the Port of L.A. and BNSF.

    In contrast to its initial draft EIR, the Port of Los Angeles didn't schedule a WLB hearing on its recirculated draft EIR [revised after opponents questioned pollution figures used in the original draft]. The lack of a WLB hearing drew a sternly worded letter from 7th district Long Beach Councilman James Johnson, accompanied by a release titled "Los Angeles to Long Beach: Your Opinion Not Needed." Councilman Johnson's letter, submitted as part of the hearing record, stated in pertinent part:

    "Reasonable people can disagree on SCIG project overall and on the Environmental Impact Report in particular. However, what is unreasonable is to intentionally ignore the most affected community throughout this process -- to say, essentially, that the voice of Long Beach residents will not be heard." The letter adds, "there needs to be a hearing on the revised Environmental Impact Report in West Long Beach, and the comment period should be extended as necessary to provide three weeks notice for the meeting." (To view Councilman Johnson's letter in full, click here.)

    Supporters of the project include Port industry interests, the L.A. area Chamber of Commerce and trade unions whose members would receive construction jobs to build the facility. A number of project supporters spoke at the hearing although they were outnumbered by project opponents.

    A major bone of contention: the proposed facility doesn't include on-dock rail. Instead, containers would be hauled by trucks roughly four miles to the new railyard on WLB-Los Angeles border. Opponents estimate the proposed location will generate 5,500 additional truck trips and 16 more trains daily, adding to already high levels toxic diesel fumes in WLB and regionally.

    BNSF counters that only new "clean trucks" will be used, the new railyard will use state of the art equipment and produce less pollution than its present facility...the truck routes will be directed away from neighborhoods and schools.

    Opponents say railyards belong in the Port, not in or near neighborhoods, schools and families. They note that the SCIG's proposed location is near two schools (an elementary school and high school), a park, a day care center are fairly close to residential neighborhoods...and would be in the same vicinity as an existing railyard, which seeks to expand its operations.

    The Los Angeles Port Working Group said in a pre-hearing release that its members will call on the Los Angeles Harbor Commission to withdraw its Recirculated Draft EIR on the BNSF-proposed SCIG railyard.

    [LA Port Working Group release text] The "Revised" DEIR makes two admissions for the first time: 1) that there will be significant adverse health effects from air pollution and noise for residents living near the proposed BNSF SCIG rail yard -- and that those residents are lower-income people of color, thereby creating an "environmental justice issue," and 2) that BNSF plans a massive expansion of its Hobart Yard in City of Commerce, increasing the number of trucks that will travel up the I-710 Freeway to that rail facility, exactly the opposite of what the Port and BNSF have been claiming.

    These revelations undermines 7 years of Port and BNSF claims that the new SCIG rail yard would take thousands of trucks off the I-710. The project will increase, not reduce, the net diesel pollution in the area -- one of the foundations of its previous claim for support.

    Policy analysts, including experts at USC, have estimated that the proposed location of the BNSF/SCIG rail yard would generate 5,500 additional truck trips and 16 more trains daily, all of which will add to the already dangerously high levels of exposure to toxic diesel fumes in the West Long Beach area -- and regionally.

    Opponents of the project call on the Los Angeles Harbor Commission to locate the new rail yard at the Portís dock so that more cargo containers can be moved from ships directly to trains without adding truck trips through residential neighborhoods. This alternative, which would generate as many jobs as the SCIG proposal, was not examined adequately in the revised draft review, nor was the communityís repeated request for an analysis of potential Zero Emissions Container Movement Systems, nor the recognition by the LA and Long Beach port authorities and the South Coast Air Quality Management District that such technology is necessary.

    The Los Angeles Port Working Group lists its participating organizations as:

    Asthma Coalition of L.A. County, Regional Asthma Management & Prevention, Bay Area Health 889 Communities, Building Healthy Communities/LB, CA Safe Schools, Coalition for Clean Air, Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Communities for a Better Environment, Communities for Clean Ports/End Oil, Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Great Leap, Inc., Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility/Los Angeles, West Long Beach Association.

    In a Sept. 23, 2012 release, BNSF said its proposed SCIG railyard is "designed to be the greenest intermodal facility in the United States. SCIG will allow containers to be loaded onto rail just four miles from the docks, rather than traveling 24 miles on local roads and the 710 freeway to downtown rail facilities. SCIG will allow 1.5 million more containers to move by more efficient and environmentally preferred rail through the Alameda Corridor each year, greatly reducing truck traffic congestion in Southern California."

    [BNSF Sept. 23 release text] The report [draft EIR] concludes that SCIG reduces health risk to a far greater extent than even the portís own goals for new projects. SCIG will also create thousands of good local jobs, remove more than 1.5 million truck trips from the 710 freeway every year, providing significant benefits for local and regional air quality and congestion relief.

    In building SCIG, BNSF will clean up an existing industrial site and replace it with a state of the art facility featuring wide-span all-electric cranes, ultra-low emission switching locomotives and low-emission rail yard equipment.

    In addition to these innovations, BNSF has committed to initially allow only trucks meeting the Portís Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) goal of 2007 or newer trucks to transport cargo between the marine terminals and the facility. Ultimately, by 2026, 90 percent of the truck fleet will be LNG or equivalent emissions vehicles. Trucks will be required to avoid residential areas by traveling on designated, industrial routes with GPS tracking to ensure adherence...

    The draft environmental impact report, which analyzes potential impacts from the project on topics ranging from air quality to traffic, includes the following key findings:

    • The Port of Los Angeles has set a health risk goal for new projects of not more than an additional 10 in a million excess cancer risks. SCIG far surpasses the Portís stated goal with a reduction of cancer risk of 160 in a million.

    • SCIG will have a significant positive impact on traffic, both locally and regionally.

    • SCIG will eliminate more than 1.5 million truck trips from the 710, reducing congestion and improving air quality.

    SCIG to Generate Green Growth and New Jobs

    "With unemployment at 12 percent in Los Angeles County, opportunities to develop infrastructure while creating well-paying local jobs should be a high priority," said Gary Toebben, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. "This project is just the type of growth that is critically needed in the region and will send a signal to the business community that sensible growth is possible in the city of Los Angeles."... had this pre-event coverage: "BNSF Railyard Hearing: Is Talk of Clean Air A Lot of Hot Air?" by Sean Belk.

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