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Port Working to Balance Concerns over Expansion

By Sangra G. Leon DSC_0013

A proposal to expand port operations near Barrio Logan has drawn fire from a local environmental group opposed to the plan.

A draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was released by the Port District on June 27 and open for public comments through August 18 to allow for input from the community and interest groups. The report outlined a proposed redevelopment plan for the marine terminal located just South of the San Diego Convention Center.

“The Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal Redevelopment Plan would replace an existing 2008 Maritime Business Plan to meet current and future market conditions at the terminal,” wrote Jason Giffen, Assistant Vice-President of Planning and Green Port for the San Diego Unified Port District in a June 27 letter. “Depending on market opportunities, some improvements may occur within a 5- to 10- year planning horizon, whereas others may not occur until the 10- to 20-year planning horizon,” Giffen added.

Currently, the marine terminal hosts port facilities for unloading new cars, fresh fruit, construction materials, and other goods transported by ships.

Under the new plan, the facilities would be modernized to expand the scope and scale of sea-based freight being handled at the port, including potentially adding “up to five gantry cranes, additional consolidated dry bulk storage capacity, enhancements to the existing conveyor system, demolition of the molasses tanks and Warehouse C, additional open storage space, and expanded on-dock rail facilities,” according to the letter from Giffen.

The Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal is 96 acres in size and has nine ship berths that allow large ships to dock. The bay’s depth at 43 feet is one of the deepest on the West Coast, and is one of only two ports on the West Coast that has cold-storage facilities for fresh fruit and other perishable goods. The port currently has 300,000 square feet of cold storage facilities and 1,000,000 square feet of warehouse and transit sheds.

Under the new plan, a wider range of goods could be handled at the Port, including dry goods, military supplies, and even more perishable foods, in addition to the 1.8 billion pounds of bananas a year already being shipped in by Dole. The future capacity of the port could increase up to 6 billion tons per year.

But the new redevelopment plan is opposed by at least one local environmental group that recently wrote a letter in opposition to the plan.

The Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) sent a letter to the Port District on August 18 outlining the traffic and health issues that could result from the increased port activities under the new expansion plan.

“The most immediately adjacent and downwind community, Barrio Logan, is already adversely impacted by industrial activity by the Port and its tenants, and will receive the brunt of health impacts, noise, traffic, and other impacts of the proposed project,” wrote Joy Williams, EHC’s Environmental Researcher.

“Barrio Logan residents are being asked to shoulder additional burdens, without any corresponding benefits in terms of local hire, job quality, improved infrastructure, increases in renewable energy, improved waterfront access or other park area, increased public safety, improved filtration and sound attenuation in buildings, or other improvements to quality of life,” Williams added.

The letter cites increased environmental and community impacts that could be caused from the increased truck traffic expected under the new redevelopment plan.  The letter claims that, under the proposal, truck traffic could increase by up to 750 percent, resulting in more than 1,372 additional truck trips through the community of Barrio Logan and onto local freeways.

“Port-related truck activity has been a top complaint of Barrio Logan residents since Dole trucks first appeared on Cesar Chavez Parkway in 2003,” EHC’s Williams wrote. “Because of their closer proximity to homes, schools, parks, and walkways, trucks and truck emissions are of special concern to the community,” Williams stated.

The balance between increased maritime activities and community concerns has been an on-going discussion for over 40 years. As the Port District looks for ways to increase maritime activities to promote economic growth and local job creation, community groups and residents have complained of unmitigated traffic and environmental impacts.

“The Port of San Diego is committed to protecting the environment and supporting economic development that creates good jobs,” said San Diego Port Commissioner Rafael Castellanos. “The proposed expansion is contemplated to occur gradually over approximately 20 years, and we are working hard to make sure we address the community’s concerns so that everyone can benefit,” Commissioner Castellanos added.

Commissioner Castellanos also points to technological advances that can help offset future development, including the use of electric vehicles, lower emission trucks, and other new technology that will come to market during the time the expanded port activities take place.

The proposed redevelopment plan will have its next hearing before the full San Diego Port Commission within the next few months, followed by a final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) due sometime in 2017.

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