Port Spokesman Says Berth 55 Is The Only Viable Location For Relocating Fireboat Station
Sport Fishing Boat Owners Plead With City And Port Staff To Salvage Operation
By Sean Belk - Staff Writer
June 5, 2012 – Port of Long Beach staff contends that a small landing called Berth 55, occupied by a longtime seafood restaurant, fish market and sport fishing operation, is the only viable place in the harbor to build a new fireboat station, despite objections from boat-owners and threats of a petition.
Not far from downtown, the landing, also known as Queen’s Wharf, located just off the 1-710 Freeway at 555 Pico Ave., is considered one of the last remaining pieces of port property not occupied by cargo-related tenants. Also, Berth 55 Seafood & Fish Market has been a staple in Long Beach for nearly 40 years, frequented by residents and port workers.
The landing, however, is also the only place the port is able to move its marine fireboat division, port staff told the Business Journal. “We don’t have a lot of choices,” said Art Wong, port spokesperson. “That’s one of the reasons why we need to move into this area . . . If there were other places we could move, we would be looking at them . . . But, there aren’t.”
The port’s current fireboat station sits underneath the Gerald Desmond Bridge, but the station has to be relocated since the bridge is being demolished and replaced by a new cable-stayed bridge in the next four years. The bridge project is considered the port’s largest infrastructure overhaul and is a major part of nearly $5 billion in capital improvement projects over the next decade.
After conducting studies, port staff concluded that Berth 55 would be the best location for new permanent fireboat facilities. The tenants were put on a month-to-month lease in 2008. More recently, port staff sent a termination letter to the master leaseholder last month. The operation of about 10 small businesses that have at least a combined 50 employees now have six months, or 180 days, to leave, from May 25.
After the Business Journal published a story on May 22 about the issue, port officials said they received various e-mails and comments from the public concerned about the potential closure of Berth 55. Some comments have indicated the possibility of starting a petition. Noel Hacegaba, executive officer to the Long Beach Harbor Commission, said harbor commissioners were unable to comment on the matter.
Michael Redlew, general manager of Long Beach Sport Fishing, which manages the landing and subleases dock space to about seven different boat operators, said the businesses are hoping to work with the city and the port to come up with a solution to stay at the location, or else they would have to close up shop.
He said the operators had invested thousands of dollars into their vessels to repower engines, but, if forced to leave, the boat-owners may have to take a loss.
“We’ll be out of business for all intents and purposes,” said Redlew, who sent a letter to city councilmembers and port officials about the issue. “These boats are not transferable to just any location . . . You can’t put them in a marina somewhere . . . We’re going to lose any ability to make money and the values of our boats are going to decrease.”
Additionally, Redlew questions whether the landing would be suitable for fireboats since he claims the fireboats would cause large wakes in speeding up to assist in emergencies. He said a better location for fireboats would be along the port’s main channel.
Calls by the Business Journal to the Long Beach Fire Department seeking comment were not returned. Also, Redlew said that there still might be a way for the fireboat station and the businesses to coexist. “I’ve offered to downsize the water space and knock down a building and use just one building,” Redlew said. “We still think it’s a terrible idea to have it down there. But if they persist, we’ve showed them a way to do both.”
Wong, on the other hand, said the port has tried to move “non-cargo” operations that utilize the waterfront closer together and near the city as a way to make it easier to provide public access. “It makes more sense for us in terms of public access . . . in that it’s centralized,” he said. However, over the years, space in the harbor area for operations not related to cargo handling has become limited, Wong said.
He added that the port is currently working with city officials to possibly find space to relocate the sport fishing operators at nearby city-operated docks, such as Rainbow Harbor. But that might be unlikely due to potential conflicts with existing boat-owners that already deal with heavy competition.
Regardless, Wong said the businesses were given ample notice of the port’s intentions. “They’ve been on notice for close to four years that we were going to be taking back this property,” he said. Wong added that the port continues to conduct an environmental review on the project. Subsequently, the harbor commission would have to vote on approving the project as well.
Daniel Brezenoff, legislative director for Long Beach City Councilmember Robert Garcia, in whose district the businesses exist, sent a statement to the Business Journal that building the fireboat station is an important project for the port to support terminal projects that are expected to provide for thousands of permanent new jobs. In addition, the councilmember hopes the city can also address the business owners’ concerns.
“It’s extremely important that we build this new fire station as we develop the Middle Harbor project, a $1 billion development that will add 14,000 jobs to the local economy,” the statement said. “Port staff and our Long Beach Fire Department have been working with both the businesses at Berth 55 and the local boat-owners to address their concerns about the new fire station being built at that location. I am hopeful that we can address the concerns raised.”
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