Environmental Justice Rally Against MegaInfrastructure Project in Long Beach

In the latest confrontation over a proposed railyard on Long Beach’s western border, more than 100 people rallied to oppose the project Thursday night before a public hearing.

As the 6 p.m. hearing being held by Port of Los Angeles officials got under way, the crowd filled the room to give written comments on the port’s environmental impact report analyzing the development.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe wants to build the 153-acre Southern California International Gateway railyard in Wilmington near the Terminal Island (103) Freeway, south of Sepulveda Boulevard, north of Pacific Coast Highway and east of Alameda Street.

The proposed $500 million railyard would pass by five schools, a day care center and homeless housing for veterans, opponents say. Some of the neighborhoods that would be most affected are in West Long Beach, an area that already experiences unusually high asthma and other health problems.

“We don’t want our kids’ lungs to be filters,” said John Cross, president of the West Long Beach Neighborhood Association.

During the rally, several community and environmental groups opposing the project wore white T-shirts with the words “Southern California International Gateway (SCIG)” crossed out by a red line. They also carried picket signs reading “Protect our health.”

Labor union members who support the project were also at the meeting, though not in the numbers of the opponents. Supporters wore orange T-shirts printed with the words “clean air” and “good jobs.”

The meeting was part of a 45-day comment period on the project’s updated draft environmental impact report. The previous report had used old data, so the study was revised.

The written comments submitted there will be entered into the public record, said Chris Cannon, the Port of Los Angeles’ director of environmental management.

Port officials didn’t take any questions.

Most opponents of the proposed project said they were upset that it’s located next door to their neighborhood, adding that it will generate 5,500 additional truck trips and 16 train trips daily.

Findings in the report, released last month, indicate that without the railyard, traffic along the Long Beach (710) Freeway will increase dramatically. Supporters say this shows the project has both traffic and environmental benefits.

Cross and others recommended an alternative site on Port of Los Angeles property that is closer to the docks.

Cannon said the proposed location is the only option.

Railroad officials contend that the project will use green technology at the facility and help remove 1.5 million trucks per year from the 710 Freeway.

But critics say the technology isn’t that green because the trains are not zero-emission, so they are still polluting.

“They’re using 19th century technology with locomotive trains,” said Jesse Marquez, executive director of the Coalition for a Safe Environment. “We have 21st century technology with zero emissions, electric trains.”

Proposed in 2005, the facility is designed to help accommodate the rising cargo demand by allowing 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 another BNSF facility in downtown Los Angeles.

The Port of Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners might vote on the project before the end of the year.

If the board approves the project, opponents say they will appeal the decision to the Los Angeles City Council. If the council approves the project, opponents will consider a lawsuit, said Morgan Wyenn of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Cross Posted from Contra Costa Times

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