A Port-entous View

In a recent maritime publication a West Coast port official was quoted as saying that nearly 15 million TEUs were handled last year by the LA/Long Beach complex and that 36.7 million or so are projected in the year 2020. Maybe and maybe not. For one thing, these same prognosticators were way off base two years ago when they predicted double-digit growth for 2007 and 2008, and if they failed in their short range guesstimates, how in heck are we supposed to take any stock in what they foresee twelve years from now? Not a single one had the slightest suspicion of this country’s upcoming financial meltdown. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, crashing credit, spiraling stock markets – none of this could be seen in the crystal balls used by these “analysts”. Their rose-colored glasses filtered out all that nastiness.

36.7 million TEUs in 2020? Those Southern California ports may not even exist twelve years from now, thanks to the hair-brained schemes dreamed up by officials at those two ports. Instead of dealing with the most serious problem their ports have created in the communities – air pollution and the consequent premature deaths and respiratory illnesses – officials are concerning themselves mainly with “growing the port”, all the while acknowledging the fact that increasing volumes will add to the noise, congestion and air pollution issues.

But they know how to keep the wolves at bay. Just throw ‘em a bone every now and then.
• Initiate the use of LNG yard tractors – which have turned out to be more expensive and more polluting than diesel yard tractors.
• Require the use of lower sulfur fuels by vessels within 24 nautical miles of California’s coast line – even though jurisdiction may not extend beyond the 3-mile limit.
• Require a vessel speed reduction to 12 knots within 20 nautical miles of the coast line – even though jurisdiction beyond the 3-mile limit is questionable.
• Initiate a Clean Trucks Program. Require drivers to acquire newer, more expensive replacement trucks even though the down-trodden and underpaid trucker can barely afford to feed his family. Enrollment is required prior to the Plan’s October 1st, 2008 start date by all drivers, trucks and trucking companies under the Clean Trucks Program, and those without ports-issued licenses by the start date will be barred from operating in the ports.

This latter brainstorm, the Clean Trucks Program, looks good on paper and has temporarily mollified some, but as of August 15th the truckers aren’t buying it. Less than 1 percent of the more than 1,300 local drayage firms serving the two ports had applied by that date. Motor carriers are convinced that they don’t need to apply for access licenses, and some have pointed out that no system is in place to monitor who has and who doesn’t have an access license. These problems, among others, are beginning to raise concerns about the ultimate effect on cargo movement when access is denied to unregistered drivers and vehicles.

“It could be the creation of the ‘perfect storm’ resulting in the creation of perfect circumstances for major problems,” said Peter Gatti, executive vice president of the National Industrial Transportation League.