Harbor reaches pollution accord
Removing a major hurdle to growth at the Port of Los Angeles, harbor officials have agreed to pay $12 million over the next year on pollution reduction initiatives in adjacent San Pedro and Wilmington, officials said Wednesday.
In the tentative agreement with environmental groups, the port promised to create a trust fund to address the long-term effects of port operations on local neighborhoods, including $6 million for the installation of air filtration systems in Wilmington public schools. For years, truck, rail and ship emissions have been a major contributor to Southern California air pollution.
The agreement, which goes before the Harbor Commission today, contains a promise from environmentalists to drop their challenge to a $170-million expansion planned in Wilmington by TraPac Inc.
Harbor Commission President S. David Freeman, an appointee of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said the pact would also serve as a template for more than a dozen upcoming expansion projects, allowing them to win approval without attracting lawsuits. Port and environmental officials are expected to join the mayor in hailing the agreement at a 1 p.m. news conference in San Pedro.
“The entire environmental community is giving its blessings to Mayor Villaraigosa’s green growth program,” Freeman said. “We will work together on all future [projects] and not resort to litigation.”
With five new container terminals and one petroleum project planned, the trust fund could quickly grow to nearly $52 million over the next four years, city officials said. In the near term, the agreement will allow the Los Angeles City Council to complete its review of TraPac’s 67-acre expansion -- the first such project to win approval in seven years.
TraPac’s project was approved by the commission four months ago, over the loud objections of environmental groups. But it failed to get out of a council committee headed by Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who initiated negotiations with the Natural Resources Defense Council and several other nonprofit groups in an attempt to secure more money for neighborhoods around the port.
“I thought if we could all sit around the table and talk about what it would take to get this terminal approved, then we would all benefit,” said Hahn, whose district includes San Pedro and Wilmington.
David Pettit, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised the agreement, saying his organization planned to work with the port to avoid lawsuits in the coming years. But he also pointed out that environmental advocates have no intention of waiving their right to challenge any future port project.
“This agreement does not give up our right to sue on any project other than TraPac,” he said.
Hahn said the agreement would require the harbor to contribute to the trust fund every time a new expansion project is approved, generating money to soundproof homes, address visual pollution and possibly restore wetlands near the harbor. Under the proposal, the port would devote $1.50 for each additional cruise ship passenger and at least $2 for each new cargo container projected as part of port growth. If approved, the agreement would also require the port to create a nonprofit group to administer the trust fund.
Business leaders are hoping that the agreement will return the port to the business climate of a decade ago, when port projects won environmental approval with few challenges. “Now that we have this template, we should be able to move forward much more rapidly in the future” with port expansion, said Gary Toebben, president of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.