Despite Opposition, Los Angeles Moves Port Rail Project Forward

With the Panama Canal scheduled to open a new set of locks to accommodate larger container ships in 2015, City Council members citied increased competition from East Coast ports for Asian trade as a reason to improve the port's cargo handling ability.

Today's 11-2 vote approved environmental findings necessary for BNSF's Southern California International Gateway's final approval, a lease agreement to allow BNSF to build on port property, as well as a 50-year permit to construct and operate the facility.

The switching yards and tracks would be about four miles from the Port of Los Angeles, shortening trips trucks currently make to a rail yard farther inland.

The council denied appeals by detractors, including the city of Long Beach, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Long Beach Unified School District, environmental justice groups, and trucking businesses.

Long Beach and Wilmington residents and members of environmental groups who oppose the project say it would be too close to schools and homes. A lawsuit was threatened by the Natural Resources Defense Council, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Representatives of labor and business groups, including the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said the project would help keep jobs in region.

Those against the project said it would be built near four schools and homes in Wilmington and Long Beach. Opponents urged the council to send back to the Harbor Commission the environmental impact report and lease agreement, saying there were no guarantees that BNSF would use a zero-emissions operator.