Environmentalists ask judge to halt $500-million harbor-area rail yard
A coalition of environmentalists, community groups and Long Beach officials is seeking a court order to halt construction of a controversial $500-million Port of Los Angeles rail yard that they claim will increase pollution in surrounding low-income, minority communities.
During hearings Monday and Tuesday, attorneys representing the group asked Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Barry Goode to order the port to cancel its approval of the proposed Southern California International Gateway. The case was filed in Los Angeles, but a local judge agreed to change the venue to Contra Costa County.
The 153-acre facility planned by the port and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. would be built in Wilmington next to California 103, between Sepulveda Boulevard and California 1 and east of Alameda Street.
The huge staging center for trains hauling cargo from the harbor is predicted to handle up to 8,200 trucks a day and the equivalent of 2.8 million 20-foot shipping containers a year by 2035.
The yard is bordered by industrial uses except for the east side, where there are schools, playing fields, parks, housing for homeless veterans and low-income, largely minority residential neighborhoods in West Long Beach.
Health studies indicate that the area has disproportionately high rates of asthma and respiratory illness -- especially among children -- related to emissions from diesel trucks and port operations.
Lawyers for the Natural Resources Defense Council allege that the environmental impact report for the gateway project violates the California Environmental Quality Act because it seriously understates the potential pollution that would come from the facility.
They also claim there is not enough mitigation to reduce harmful impacts and that project opponents were denied a fair hearing when they appealed the Los Angeles City Council’s approval of the project’s environmental analysis in 2013.
The plaintiffs are requesting that the judge order the port to cancel its approval of both the project and its environmental impact report. In addition, they want Goode to order the city to hold a fair hearing for the their appeal.
“Our multi-year lawsuit against the Port of Los Angeles and Burlington Northern Santa Fe ... will finally come to a head,” said Morgan Wyenn, an NRDC attorney.
The plaintiffs include the NRDC, the California attorney general, the City of Long Beach, the Long Beach Unified School District, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, the Coalition for Clean Air and Communities for a Safe Environment.
Port and railroad attorneys contend that a 10-year effort to study the environmental impact of the project shows that the planned mitigation measures will reduce the current high levels of pollution.
Their court briefs state that in many cases the port and railroad went beyond the requirements of state environmental laws and agreed to provide substantial benefits requested by the nearby community.
The port and railroad further contend the project will reduce truck traffic, freeway congestion and toxic emissions by eliminating 1.3 million truck trips a year along a 24-mile stretch of the 710 Freeway between the port and Burlington Northern’s Hobart Yard.
Overall, the defense points to a 200,000-page record of evidence that supports the impact report’s conclusions and refutes the allegations leveled against the project.
NRDC attorneys contend, however, that pollution will actually increase because the gateway project will not replace operations at Hobart Yard but add to the railroad’s capacity to handle freight in the area.
The judge has 90 days to rule on the environmental portion of the case. Arguments on the fair hearing allegation were postponed to Jan. 28.
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