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L.B. Port Looks to New Growth Spurt in 1985 : Harbor's 35-Year Plan Will Expand Size to Match Its Increasing Cargo

January 06, 1985|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — The Port of Long Beach, straining at its seams after two decades of robust growth, is looking to 1985 to complete $150 million in wharf, road and rail construction and to firm up another $400 million in building for 1986.

The port's year also is expected to be marked by the spirited biennial politicking that accompanies vacancies on the Harbor Commission. This year two of five commission seats, among the most prestigious in city government, will be available.

Influential Citizens

And, if tradition is followed, the mayor will nominate two of the city's most influential citizens for the jobs. Mayor Ernie Kell said that he would nominate millionaire businessman Robert Langslet for a second term on the commission, but he had not chosen the other appointee.

In addition, this will be the year the Harbor Department aggressively pushes a 35-year plan that would nearly double the size of the increasingly crowded port by the year 2020, said James McJunkin, its executive director since 1976.

"It will be a construction year," said McJunkin, 55, in an interview in his sixth-floor harbor office, where he runs the quasi-independent city department with its 325 employees and a $150-million annual budget.

The view from his office overlooks the cranes and wharfs of the West Coast's busiest port. He motioned toward a new breakwater off Pier A and in the direction of aging cargo sheds that will soon be replaced by larger ones.

"With our shortage of land, we're in a juggling act to intensify its use," said the folksy McJunkin, an up-through-the ranks administrator with Southern roots. "That puts us in the seemingly absurd position of tearing down sheds and building new ones on the same site."

Regardless of the new construction this year, McJunkin believes "the major story will be the planning (by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles), which by the end of 1985 will have committed all of their available land."

Even with projects that the two San Pedro Bay ports have planned for the near future and even if cargo increases by as little as 5% annually, McJunkin said, "in five years everything we can do with existing land will be done."

That forecast comes after an extraordinary 1983-84 fiscal year, which saw the volume of cargo handled by the Long Beach port jump 13%. It also follows a strong decade, during which cargo increased an average of 9.1% annually--from 24 million tons 10 years ago to 54 million last fiscal year.

Former 'Country Cousin'

Such growth underscores the Long Beach port's 20-year emergence from the shadow of Los Angeles harbor--"No question about it, we were the country cousin," said McJunkin--and makes it imperative that officials "juggle" their limited land resources with skill.

During the next 12 months, for example, the port plans to spend $75 million to shuffle tenants, replace aging warehouses and construct new wharfs to make room for a flow of cargo that is expected to double by the end of the century.

In addition, 1985 should bring the first $17 million in improvements in a $53-million project to upgrade harbor-area streets. It should also see building of a $50-million rail yard that would enhance trade while reducing truck traffic on local freeways, port officials said.

Three other large projects costing a total of more than $400 million could break ground by January, 1986, said McJunkin.

These private developments on port property include the $319-million World Trade Center, by far the largest development ever proposed for downtown Long Beach, and 350-room additions to both the Queen Mary and Queensway Bay Hilton hotels.

In general, the port is expecting another good year, said McJunkin. That is the case despite ever-declining exports from the port, a sharp drop in port profits last fiscal year and decisions by six shipping lines in mid-1984 to take their business elsewhere, officials said.

Positive Trend Seen

"We saw a profound (positive) trend in '84," said McJunkin, "with huge importation of manufactured goods, primarily consumer goods, from the Pacific Rim basin from Australia to Japan."

Those imports accounted for most of the 46% increase in 1983-84 in containerized cargo handled by Long Beach, which already was among the world leaders in that category. The port moved 19.5 million metric tons of cargo in the huge, box-like steel containers last fiscal year, compared to 13.4 million the year before.

McJunkin attributed that growth to Long Beach's construction of new facilities, averaging about $50 million a year for seven years, and close ties with Far Eastern shippers.

Most recent figures show the growth trends of 1983-84 continuing, despite losing as customers two shipping lines that went bankrupt and a half dozen that moved six months ago to the Port of Los Angeles.

"Our facilities were very crowded and L.A. had completed some terminals and suddenly there was some room," explained port information officer Elmar Baxter.

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