Port OKs Unocal Pact to Relocate Tank Farm

Times Staff Writer

A decade-long battle between San Pedro residents and Unocal came to a close Wednesday when the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners approved an agreement that requires the oil company to dismantle its tank farm within five years.

Unocal's San Pedro tank farm, on 22nd Street between a residential neighborhood and the new Cabrillo Marina, has long been criticized by residents who say it is a hazard to their homes.

The tank farm, which can hold up to 2 million barrels of crude oil, is used to store oil from tankers until it is needed at the company's refinery in Wilmington, on Anaheim Street near the Harbor Freeway.

Neighbors have been complaining about the tank farm since 1976, when the oil tanker Sansinena blew up while it was loading fuel at Unocal's Miner Street terminal, not far from the tank farm. The explosion killed nine people and caused $21.6 million in damage.

Flores Joined Critics

Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores--who has been credited by residents and port officials for orchestrating Wednesday's agreement--joined the critics in 1981, as soon as she was elected.

"We're very excited, very pleased," Flores' harbor deputy, Ann D'Amato, said at the commission meeting Wednesday. "It's been a long haul, though."

Unocal, which has to absorb costs of as much as $50 million to relocate the tanks, is also backing the agreement, but a company official did not seem nearly as elated about it as D'Amato.

"We're as satisfied as we can be, I think," said Nat F. Chavira, Unocal general counsel.

Chavira said company officials have not yet picked a site for the relocated tanks. He added, however, that the Unocal refinery is a strong possibility. Once a site is found, the company will build a pipeline to the new tank farm from the Unocal tanker terminal.

Under the agreement approved Wednesday:

The Harbor Department and Unocal will sign a "phase-out" lease to extend the oil company's current lease, which expired last July, to July, 1993. By then, the company must dismantle its tanks and restore the tank-farm site to its original condition. This includes removing any contamination that may have resulted from the tanks.

Flores, the Harbor Department and the residents will not oppose the company's plans to build a pipeline to the relocated tanks.

Unocal's lease for the Miner Street terminal will be extended for another 30 years, giving the company a valuable long-term commitment for that site. If, however, a so-called "energy island" for tanks and other hazardous facilities is completed within 20 years, the port has the right under the agreement to relocate Unocal there.

This provision is an attempt to coordinate long-range plans for the energy island, announced by the Harbor Department in 1987, with the more immediate need to rid San Pedro of the Unocal tanks. The Harbor Department had initially planned to move the tanks to the island--to be built by filling in part of the outer harbor--when it is ready. But residents and Flores complained that such a relocation could take 10 years or more.

During Wednesday's meeting, Harbor Commission President Ira Distenfield acknowledged that community activists and Flores, who became involved in negotiations when the company's lease for the 22nd Street tank farm expired, had pushed the port into supporting the agreement.

However, Distenfield said, the plan is a good example of how the port can resolve the "natural conflicts" between its industrial tenants and nearby residents.

"We can achieve our purpose and do it with community concerns in mind," said Distenfield. "We all end up winners for this."

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