Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) officials are uncertain about building a $500 million rail yard after a judge ruled that an environmental impact report (EIR) conducted by the Port of Los Angeles nearly three years ago was inadequate.
In a statement released April 8, Steve Bobb, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for BNSF, said it is not clear if the project will be built under the new framework set forth by the judge’s decision, adding that the railroad company will be conferring with Port of L.A. officials.
“After a thorough review of the ruling, BNSF is troubled by what the decision represents and is uncertain whether moving forward with the project is feasible at this time,” he said.
In a 200-page ruling issued last month, Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barry P. Goode determined that the Port of L.A. failed to perform adequate environmental analysis before the Los Angeles Harbor Commission and the Los Angeles City Council approved plans for the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) rail yard proposed near West Long Beach.
BNSF officials said the railroad company is “disappointed” with the judge’s ruling and the project’s failure to move forward is a major loss for the local ports, the community and the region, with missed opportunities for a “green, efficient facility” that serves customers and would have bolstered the ports’ competitiveness.
In order for the project to move forward, the port must now complete a new EIR that identifies additional mitigation measures to reduce potential environmental impacts.
The City of Long Beach, along with several other parties, including the Long Beach Unified School District, filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, challenging the merits of the rail yard project and the accuracy of the port’s EIR. Long Beach city officials and environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, argued that the port failed to accurately analyze potential environmental impacts, such as air pollution, traffic and noise, that the project would have on West Long Beach schools, neighborhoods and a homeless shelter.
Under a 50-year lease, BNSF had planned to build the rail yard on property owned by the Port of L.A. bounded by Sepulveda Boulevard, Pacific Coast Highway, the Dominguez Channel and the Terminal Island Freeway. BNSF proposed the rail yard to add capacity and to shift operations from the company’s current Hobart facility in the City of Commerce to the new SCIG facility, which would ultimately force some trucking and warehousing companies to be relocated. The goal is to utilize the Alameda Corridor rail system more efficiently and to move cargo closer to port docks.
While the Port and BNSF have defended the EIR’s findings, maintaining that the project would improve overall air quality by taking trucks off the I-710 Freeway and by implementing zero-emission equipment, the court sided with the City of Long Beach, ruling that the rail yard as currently proposed would add significant air pollution to the region.
According to a statement from the Long Beach City Attorney’s office, the new rail yard would have directed thousands of diesel trucks and miles of diesel trains close to schools, daycare centers, playing fields and residences on a daily basis. By 2035, the project would have generated 2 million truck trips per year to and from the site, along with the loading and unloading of up to 1.5 million shipping containers annually.
The court found that the EIR used a flawed approach for measuring potential noise impacts of the new facility by focusing on “average” noise rather than the maximum acceptable level of individual noise events, according to the city attorney’s office. The court also declared that the EIR underestimated traffic impacts on San Gabriel Avenue near the Century Villages at Cabrillo homeless shelter and provided a misleading analysis of potential air quality impacts.
In addition, the court asserted that the EIR failed to analyze the impacts that the SCIG project would have on BNSF’s existing Hobart facility. By omitting this information, the EIR underestimated SCIG’s potential effects, including its capacity to induce further growth in the area, according to the city attorney.
“By failing to take the Hobart impacts into account, the EIR provided an inaccurate assessment of the project’s impacts on climate change,” the city attorney’s office stated, adding that the EIR also failed to analyze the combined or cumulative impacts from the SCIG and the existing Intermodal Container Transfer Facility.
The judge’s ruling vacates all of the harbor commission’s and city council’s approvals of the project and suspends all project activities until a new EIR complies with the California Environmental Quality Act, according to the city attorney’s office.