LONG BEACH — The Harbor Commission, taking the first step in a plan that would nearly double port-owned acreage by the year 2020, has approved the dredging of its main channel to build two landfills south of the Queen Mary along Pier J.
At the same time, the commission moved Monday to quell objections to the $123-million, 147-acre landfill project by agreeing to create a 110-acre sanctuary for marine life within the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge at Anaheim Bay.
The Pier J expansion plan probably will be forwarded this week to the state Coastal Commission for certification. With the Coastal Commission's approval, construction could begin by summer and be completed in 1989, said James McJunkin, port executive director.
Criticized Last Year
A year ago, the Coastal Commission staff was sharply critical of the overall expansion plan of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The so-called 2020 Plan lacked detailed analysis of the environmental effects of construction, a commission spokesman said then.
Under the 2020 Plan, the ports, which already dominate West Coast shipping, would spend $4 billion to dredge millions of cubic yards of earth from the bottom of the two harbors to create 2,600 acres of new land during the next 35 years.
The dredging would allow the world's largest ships to enter the harbors, and the new land would accommodate a projected tripling of cargo through the ports by 2020.
First Step to Expansion
The Pier J expansion is the Long Beach port's first step in that direction.
And Geraldine Knatz, Long Beach coordinator of the 2020 project, said the port's agreement with state and federal fish and wildlife agencies to build the Anaheim Bay marine-life sanctuary has apparently removed opposition by the Coastal Commission and environmental groups to the Pier J proposal.
A recent letter to the port from Milton Phegley, the Coastal Commission's ports coordinator, said, "We appreciate the fact that the applicant has addressed topics of concern to us."
That letter and other discussions indicate that "we'll have smooth sailing through the rest of the process for Pier J," Knatz said. "Their main concern was wildlife restoration, and we think we've answered all their questions."
Important Fish Habitat
The port's outer harbor, where a 135-acre Pier J landfill will be placed, is considered an important habitat for fish because it is a rare shallow bay where many species feed, says the port's environmental impact report. To replace that habitat, the port is willing to spend about $5 million to restore wetlands at Anaheim Bay, said Knatz.
City Planning Director Robert Paternoster, who 16 months ago warned that port construction could snarl Long Beach rail and automobile traffic, now says the port has done what it can to alleviate those problems.
Both ports have worked with Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D-Harbor City), who hopes to push through Congress this session a $73.8-million appropriation for road and rail improvements in the harbor area, Paternoster said. And the ports, along with the Southern California Assn. of Governments and several cities, are trying to route all rail traffic onto one central track that bypasses Long Beach, he said.
More Truck Traffic
Still, the Pier J expansion is expected to generate about 270 additional truck trips a day, which would contribute to air pollution and further slow rush-hour traffic on the northbound Long Beach Freeway, port documents say. A new rail station, where shipping containers will be transferred from trucks to trains, is under construction in Carson, four miles north of the port, however, and it is expected to pull many of those trucks off the freeway, port officials said. The station is being built on 150 acres northeast of the intersection of Sepulveda Boulevard and Alameda Street.
Although construction could begin by summer, the Pier J expansion might be delayed because a $16-million appropriation for dredging has been held up in Congress, port director McJunkin said.
When completed, the expansion will include the 135-acre landfill along the southern end of the pier and a 12-acre landfill nearby.
That 147-acre expansion would be part of the 1,300 acres the Long Beach port hopes to add under the 2020 Plan. The port now owns 1,617 acres, and there are 2,784 acres, including those privately owned, within the harbor district.