Sharp Contrasts At Hearing On Recirculated Draft EIR For BNSF-Sought Railyard ("So. Cal Int'l Gateway" or SCIG)
|(Oct. 20, 2012 w/ text added Oct. 22) -- A large crowd attended an
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.
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.
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.
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.
GreaterLongBeach.com 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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