Locals Concerned about Pollution from New Port of LA Rail Yard

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Rigoberto Pinto lives near the proposed rail yard. (Photo: Anabell Romero)

Rigoberto Pinto lives near the proposed rail yard. (Photo: Anabell Romero)

Many Wilmington residents along with other Harbor Area communities are enraged about a 153-acre rail yard proposed by the Port of Los Angeles. The $500 million project would be built a few feet away from schools and homes at the intersection of the cities of Wilmington, Carson and Long Beach. Residents claim the project can seriously harm the health of thousands of residents, workers and school children in areas adjacent to the yard.

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe's Railway Company along with the Port of LA have partnered to develop the Southern California International Gateway rail yard project. This new rail yard would reduce truck traffic that currently travels to other rail yards near downtown Los Angeles, more than 24 miles away, to drop off freight transported from the port to other destinations by rail.BNSF officials said the new facility is within four miles of the ports. It means that trucks loaded with cargo containers from ships at those ports will travel just a short distance before transferring the containers to rail cars. From there, the rail cars would travel through the Alameda Corridor rail line and on to destinations around the country. Officials estimate 1.5 million annual truck trips will be eliminated from the Long Beach (710) freeway, reducing traffic and air pollution.

At a public meeting led by port officials, people were divided about their stance on the rail yard project. Elena Rodriguez, a Long Beach resident who lives two blocks from the proposed rail yard is worried.“This project will impact me and my family in a negative way because it is going to be very close to my house, it will bring more pollution, more noise, vibration and more traffic for not only my community but for nearby schools also."

BNSF and the Port of LA insist that it is an environmentally friendly project that will have all-electric cranes and the newest fleets of locomotives while requiring that all rigs use designated truck routes bypassing residential areas.

Even though truck traffic will be reduced on the 710 Freeway, in the local neighborhoods it could be increased. Local activists said a valid assessment has not been made on whether current streets can handle more trucks coming into the ports and that this project will actually lead to more pollution in the immediate neighborhood.

BNSF and the Port of LA have done what's called a "Health Risk Assessment." An HRA provides information on how many people might die due to pollution, but advocates say a different type of assessment should be done, an evaluation that measures how many people are already sick.

“We asked them to do a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) … [in] the communities that will be impacted, you basically go door to door to know exactly how many people have asthma, sinusitis, emphysema [and] lung cancer,” said Jesse Marquez of Wilmington, executive director of the Coalition for a Safe Environment.

The HIA creates a baseline so long-term changes in the health of the people can be more easily spotted.

Community complaints have also been that the Port should make even more use of the Alameda Corridor, a rail line which was also built to reduce truck traffic and air pollution. The $2.4 billion corridor connects the national rail system near downtown LA to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, running parallel to Alameda Street.

“Fifteen years ago they built the Alameda Corridor saying it was going to take all the trucks off the highways and they were going to electrify the train, there would be no pollution,” said  Marquez. “But when the dust settled they didn’t do that.”

According to a report created by the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern California the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority (ACTA) maintain that the Corridor is performing as anticipated, but there is a general disappointment among the public regarding the Alameda's Corridor's truck traffic impact.  However, the report states the project was intended to consolidate train traffic, which it did successfully.

At the informational meeting, the supporters who approved the project said it will create more jobs in a time where a high number of Harbor residents are unemployed.

“This means that all my members can go to work. I have members right now that haven’t worked in over two years and when I say members I’m also talking about their families that have been struggling,” said Rick Foss, business representative of Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 105.

Marquez said his group recommended three other locations located within the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to build the rail yard, but all sites suggested are already slated for use as future container terminals.

In a statement to the Daily Breeze, Lena Kent, a BNSF spokeswoman, said the site chosen was the closest they could get to both the port and the Alameda corridor and that they wouldn't be making a $500 million investment on the site if they could do the work any closer.

If the project is permitted next spring by the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners, construction would begin by 2013.

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About Anabell Romero

Anabell Romero is an aspiring journalist who grew up in Wilmington and returned home after graduating from UC Santa Cruz. She is currently a graduate student at USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. She is very committed to her community and hopes to bring positive change. Since 2009 she has been Member at Large of the Wilmington Neighborhood Council. She also helped create The Wilmington Wire, a cooperative blog for the community. In addition to graduate school, she works for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships as Program Coordinator. She has a fondness for informing people about issues that directly impact their community’s infrastructure. Her passion is driven by the fact that she grew up in a largely Latino neighborhood that continues to be faced with many issues that deplete the quality of life for its residents. Her goal is to trigger dialogue about community issues to help empower residents to bring positive change to Wilmington.

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