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Council to Study Financing for Dust Control at Harbor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trying to shore up an agreement with air quality regulators, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to study a proposal to have the Port of Los Angeles finance two domes to control potentially hazardous dust from a major coal terminal in the harbor.

The motion by Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr. is the latest step in a controversy surrounding the Los Angeles Export Terminal, which filed a request two weeks ago with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to withdraw its offer to cover piles of petroleum coke.

The terminal’s about-face has angered community activists and irritated AQMD officials, who granted the facility its operating permits in December partly on the condition that the roofs be built.

Svorinich requested that the city’s Harbor Department, which is a partner in the terminal, explore the feasibility of paying for the domes itself and recovering the cost--estimated to be as high as $19 million--by increasing the terminal’s rent.

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“We are living up to our end of the bargain,” said Svorinich, who represents the San Pedro area. “We are asking that [the terminal operators] renew their commitment to construction of the domes.”

Port officials are expected to report their findings to the City Council within a month.

In addition to supporting Svorinich’s proposal, Councilman Richard Alarcon, the council’s representative on the AQMD, said he will ask the agency to make sure the terminal installs the domes or revoke the facility’s operating permit if it doesn’t. The terminal is required to break ground on the roofs by July 31.

“I think it’s important for us not to buy into their false promises,” Alarcon said. “This is not an issue of whether or not they can afford to build those domes. This is an issue where the organization has promised to do something for the public benefit.”

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Unions, employee associations and residents throughout the harbor area have been concerned about dust that can blow off the terminal’s petroleum coke piles. The fine particles can travel long distances and can aggravate respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia.

Terminal officials contend the domes are no longer affordable because their cost has risen dramatically at the same time the facility’s revenue from exports has been dropping because of Asia’s economic problems.

Terminal operators also say the facility is being unfairly singled out by AQMD to provide more elaborate pollution controls, although the terminal already meets air quality standards.

Gerald Swan, the terminal’s chief executive officer, said he is interested in Svorinich’s proposal. The facility, he added, would be willing to negotiate the cost of the domes with the port if there are economic benefits for the terminal.

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Larry Keller, the port’s general manager, said it is premature to say how Svorinich’s plan would work. Nevertheless, he questioned whether the terminal and the port could afford the domes.

On the other hand, community activists in San Pedro and Wilmington, who have been concerned about the long-term health effects of petroleum coke dust, welcomed Svorinich’s proposal.

Times staff writer Beth Shuster contributed to this report.


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