So it begins. What has been a long uphill battle, might get even longer.
More than a week has passed since The Port of Los Angeles’ Board of Harbor Commissioners approved the Environmental Impact Report for construction of a cutting-edge shipping yard on the edge of Long Beach by railroad giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). The project is called Southern California International Gateway or SCIG.
The Port Working Group has begun the appeals process against the Board’s decision to the Los Angeles City Council.
The Port Working Group is comprised of several organizations including East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ), Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma (LBACA), the West Long Beach Neighborhood Association, and many more.
Neighbors east of the proposed yard project object to the construction on the grounds that it would bring more pollution to an already highly-polluted area.
“We consider this to [be] a terrible project premised on the misconception that minority communities can shoulder the pollution burden of our region,” said David Pettit, Director of the Southern California Air Program and a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who is representing the Port Working Group during this process.
“We will fight to protect the community and the environment from preventable diesel pollution and have already offered a number of solutions that will generate good, local jobs without harming residents,” Pettit said. “We expect to succeed in appealing the decision.”
It came down to the issue of more jobs versus health at the hearing, where community members wore orange shirts in favor of the SCIG and white shirts opposing it.
“We shouldn’t have to choose between a good job and clean air,” was a comment heard more than once from those opposed to the SCIG.
Official estimates by BNSF claim that the facility would create some 1,500 jobs per year during construction, and over 22,000 port-related jobs.
Altogether The Port Working Group submitted more than 200 research studies, and even several death certificates of area residents who, they say, died as a result of pollution for consideration at Thursday night’s vote.
Nevertheless, after hearing more than five hours of public comment, the Port of Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the final environmental impact report of the SCIG.
Some officials at the Port of Los Angeles and Burlington Northern Santa Fe did not empathize with Long Beach residents.
“What I’m hearing from a lot of people is that there’s a school here, and you want to put a rail yard there,” said Port of Los Angeles Director of Environmental Management Chris Cannon. “What they’re really saying is I don’t care what you tell me or what the words on the paper say, I just can’t wrap my head around that.”
“From their testimony they make it sound like we’re water-boarding them,” said Roger Nober, executive Vice President and Legal Secretary to BNSF. “People will say anything.”
The Environment Impact Report (EIR) for the project claims that technological advancements eventually phased in at the site, would result in better air quality overall for the South Coast Air Basin. There are ambiguities in the document however, and even after intense scrutiny at the public meeting last week, Port of Los Angeles director of Environmental Management Chris Cannon was unable to answer whether or not air quality for those residents of Wrigley and West Long Beach would reflect the ‘overall improvements’ touted in the EIR.
In 2011 The West Long Beach Health Survey found that almost 80 percent of the childhood asthma cases in West Long Beach were kids that have lived in the area longer than six years, while only nine percent of childhood asthma cases were kids that have lived there for less than 1 year. This proves that Asthma risk already grows over time while living in West Long Beach.
We expected the supporters of this project to make a convincing argument, but we will not accept any decision to move forward,” said Angelo Logan, executive director at EYCEJ. “We continue to be committed to stopping this bad project, committed to [our members], and committed to justice.”
“We’ll appeal it to LA city council, and if they pass it we’ll sue.” said John Cross, President of the West Long Beach Neighborhood Association.
Pettit said that if the appeal is denied, the NRDC would consider their legal options and the desires of their clients in those polluted communities.
To view a version of the environmental impact report from the Ports, go HERE.