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Harbor-area residents demand better oversight of port operations

The China Shipping terminal in the Port of Los Angeles; the port failed to carry out pollution-control measures it pledged in a legal settlement over the expansion of the terminal.
The China Shipping terminal in the Port of Los Angeles; the port failed to carry out pollution-control measures it pledged in a legal settlement over the expansion of the terminal.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Harbor-area residents and environmentalists on Tuesday urged the city to appoint an independent body to oversee the Port of Los Angeles, saying it cannot be trusted to fulfill air pollution-cutting requirements at one of its busiest shipping terminals.

The demands follow the port’s disclosure in September that it has failed to carry out measures it pledged years ago in a legal settlement over the expansion of the China Shipping terminal.

The port did not carry out 11 of 52 measures it agreed to when approving the project in 2008. Those include mandates for cleaner trucks and cargo-handling equipment and measures to reduce emissions from massive container ships.

“Locals used to joke that the port only listened to San Pedro and Wilmington residents if we sued them,” San Pedro resident Peter Warren said at a meeting of a city council committee that oversees the port. “It turns out the port doesn’t even abide by court-approved settlements.”

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The Times reported Monday that just months after approving the terminal expansion and a suite of pollution-reduction measures, top port officials began issuing waivers in 2009 that gave China Shipping permission to ignore a major requirement: Ships must plug into electricity while in port to reduce harmful diesel emissions.

Gene Seroka, who became head of the port last year, said current management is taking ownership of the problem and preparing a new environmental plan for the terminal that will include yard tractors and trucks that run on alternative fuel and other measures to make good on the air quality pledges.

“We are committed to ensuring that something like this never happens again,” Seroka told the committee.

Attorneys for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which filed the lawsuit that led to the 2004 settlement, urged the port to move forward with a plan to deploy trucks fueled by ultra low-emitting liquefied natural gas, among other air quality improvements, if it wants to avoid costly litigation.

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NRDC attorney David Pettit said the city is facing hundreds of millions of dollars in potential liability for failing to put in cleaner technology at the terminal.

“That’s a very big price to pay,” Pettit said, adding that “every dollar of this, as we look at it right now, could have been avoided if the port had decided to obey the law.”

After the public hearing, the committee met for 40 minutes behind closed doors with port staff and other city officials, then reconvened to ask port officials to report back after the new environmental review.

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Results of an audit of a second terminal, the TraPac facility where an expansion was approved in 2007 with similar emissions-reduction measures, are expected early next year.

In 2013, Los Angeles harbor commissioners dismantled a citizen oversight panel that was supposed to keep an eye on waterfront development and its impacts on surrounding communities.

Kathleen Woodfield, vice president of the San Pedro & Peninsula Homeowners Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the port, was a past member of the Port Community Advisory Committee.

She said its dissolution came after she and other community members asked for a review of mitigation measures at the China Shipping terminal and other terminal expansion projects.

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tony.barboza@latimes.com

Twitter: @tonybarboza

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