Where there’s a will, there’s a way …

Two weeks ago an enlightening article was published in the CONTRA COSTA TIMES. Some of the folks out in California are beginning to see the light, and here’s how John Geluardi presented the story:

“Marshlands considered for port” was the headline.

“Richmond: Officials to weigh financial benefits, environmental hazards for project estimated at $ 5 billion.

“A dramatic surge in the lucrative shipping trade has Richmond officials eyeing an undeveloped stretch of marshlands for a possible container port.

“California’s major ports are already operating at full capacity, and as trade between the Pacific Rim and the United States grows, there is increasing economic pressure to build more ports along the state’s shoreline.

“With potentially millions in revenue, thousands of new jobs and a gaggle of well-heeled investors lining up at city hall, Richmond city officials are planning a port feasibility study. The possible site is north of the Chevron refinery on about 500 acres of marshland. If approved, the port, which would require a major dredging operation, would cost an estimated $ 5 billion in private and public investment …”

[A feasibility study, properly done, would consider the effects of our patented storage, retrieval and delivery system. As opposed to the primitive conventionally-structured design, which has prompted the above quoted figures of 500 acres and $ 5 billion, our system would require site preparation of less than 100 acres and funding far, far less than the quoted estimate. Even with the dredging thrown in, the cost of this container port would be less than $ 1 billion. And it wouldn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. We’d foot the entire bill.]

“While there are many environmental challenges, city officials say the marshlands around the mouth of Wildcat Creek, on the northern shoreline, are an almost ideal location for a port because of available land, two existing railways and easy access to major freeways …”

[Someone should run this by the governor. The LA/Long Beach complex, remember, no longer has available land and easy access to major freeways. ‘Band-aid’ applications to the infrastructure down there, in an insane effort to triple the size of their problems, will cost California taxpayers a lot more than $ 5 billion.]

“‘This is in the very early stages and there is no specific site planned yet,’ said Manager Bill Lindsay. ‘It may be possible for a number of reasons, but a port could bring thousands of jobs and increase city revenue, so it would be irresponsible not to fully evaluate the possibility.’…”

[Right, Bill. Be sure to ‘fully evaluate the possibility’.]

“One huge obstacle is the need to dredge out a massive amount of the bay’s floor that is likely to be contaminated by decades of refinery operations. Also, port activities are associated with elevated levels of diesel emissions, which could create a health hazard in nearby residential districts such as unincorporated North Richmond, a low-income community that is already impacted by pollution from the area’s industrial operations …”

[Why not deal with these problems the same way Southern California intends to deal with them? Where there’s a will, there’s a way.]

“The potential for another container port in the Bay Area is considerable.

“Exports to the United States are expected to nearly triple by 2010, according to a 2005 study by the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. However, there is currently not enough port capacity to accommodate the expected trade boom. The state’s major ports at Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland are already operating at capacity and have little or no room to expand …”

[The view from up north is so much better. Port officials in Southern California, after all, can’t see the congestion because of the smog. We can understand that.]

“Local governments from the tiny fishing village of Prince Rupert in British Columbia down to Lazaro Carenas (sic) in southern Mexico are looking at their waterfront property as potential sites for container ports …”

[The smog is pretty thick up in Sacramento, too.]

“Richmond has a number of competitive advantages, according to Finance Director Jim Goins. There is enough available land to build roads, docks, and warehouse space that a port would require. The area is especially attractive because two major railroads, the Union Pacific and Burlington North & Santa Fe, are easily accessible for transporting goods inland. And trucks would be able to use the Richmond Parkway to access interstates 580 and 80.

“But there are also major challenges. Water depth of the shore is shallow, between two and 10 feet deep, so the project would require a major dredging operation to reach the deep water channel in the middle of San Pablo Bay. In addition to a lane to the channel, a large area just offshore would have to be dredged to provide enough maneuvering room for multiple container ships, some of which are 1,200 feet long …”

[But most of them are only half that long, Jim.]

“The dredging could cost more than a billion dollars, Goins said. There is also concern that dredging activity could awaken an environmental monster, adding to the cost. The Chevron refinery, immediately adjacent to the site, has been operating for more than 100 years, and layers of pollutants have settled on the bay’s bottom …”

[We’d foot the bill for the dredging, of course, and it wouldn’t be anywhere near $ 1 billion.]

“If there are significant toxic materials buried in the sediment, silt and mud, the dredged material would have to be disposed of in a place where there is no chance toxics would leak back into the environment,

“There are also issues related to diesel fumes from boats, port equipment and trucks. West Contra Coast County is already heavily impacted by diesel fumes, according to a 2005 study by the Pacific Institute.

“The study concluded that the air in Richmond, North Richmond, San Pablo and Parchester Village, has six times more particulates than the rest of the county.

“‘The city of Richmond needs to be very careful when talking about expanding its port,’ said Pacific Institute Program Director Meena Palaniappan. ‘There are enormous health impacts associated with increased levels of diesel emissions including cancers, heart disease, and they may actually cause asthma.’

“Balancing the potential for city revenue and jobs for Richmond residents, City Manager Bill Lindsay is cautiously optimistic about the development of a major container ship port in Richmond. The feasibility study may quickly determine a port is a fatally flawed idea.

“‘The city is interested in job development and that would be an important objective of having a port here, to create jobs for the community,’ he said. ‘But you don’t do that at any cost.'”

[Regardless of how this plays out, the folks in Richmond should be commended for their foresight. It would take years and years of negligence on their part to develop the unhealthy climate that prevails now in the port communities surrounding the LA/Long Beach complex, but there’s little chance of that happening. They’re well-aware of the ill-advised steps taken by Southern California officials, and it will be easy to avoid such missteps. The insistence upon expansion at these congested ports in San Pedro is the latest in the long list of official miscalculations.

Other West Coast ports should follow the example being set by Richmond officials. They’re saying all the right things. They’ve been doing their homework. The construction of a moderately-sized container port will be an enormous benefit to the entire community, and Mr. Wilson Lacy, the Port of Oakland’s Maritime Director, has already indicated as much in an address he gave to officials at the Port of Humboldt Bay just a few weeks ago.

After Harbor District officials had expressed an interest in developing its Redwood Dock facility in order to generate employment opportunities, Mr. Lacy discussed the potential for a partnership and told the commissioners that “container shipping terminals are the gold mines of today”. Of course, as a Maritime Director, he would know that.

What he doesn’t know yet, however, is that these “gold mines” can be provided to West Coast ports at no cost to taxpayers. But as a Maritime Director, he’ll know this eventually.]