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Kaiser Bulk Loader Blamed : Sooty Pall Over Marina Angers Boaters

December 18, 1986|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

For the past 25 years, Craig Tolby has spent weekends on the 24-foot sloop he keeps at the Holiday Harbor marina, one of several privately operated wharves in the Port of Los Angeles.

Tolby usually sleeps overnight on the boat, the Tolby II, takes it for a sail the next day, and then drives 40 miles back home to Arcadia in the San Gabriel Valley.

"The people in this anchorage have changed many times, but when good ones have left, good ones have come," said Tolby, the brim of his floppy white hat resting on the top of his oversized sunglasses as he stood by his boat one day last week. "This marina has been very good to me."

Yet sailing from one of the busiest harbors in the country has its hazards. There are tankers to contend with, cruise liners, touring boats, barges, tugs, Coast Guard vessels, thousands of other small craft--and worst of all, Tolby says, black gunk.

"It is just a mess," he said, spraying his boat with a hose. "It is like soot. It goes along the decks, and if you tramp on it, you track it all over and you never get it off."

Tolby said pollution--both in the water and the air--has been a fact of life ever since he began renting a slip in the bustling industrial port. But the black oily residue is relatively new, he said. It seems to settle on boats after moisture mixes with sooty dust in the air, Tolby said, and he and scores of other boat owners in the area are convinced--although they are still trying to gather proof--that it comes from the nearby bulk-loading facility operated by Kaiser International Corp.

"I would like it closed down and moved out," Tolby said, his voice partly drowned out by the whistle of a train hauling a load of coal into the facility. "Here they are coming to dump dust on my boat again."

As president of Kaiser International, Richard E. Holdaway has made the export business a way of life. The company, formerly a subsidiary of Kaiser Steel and now owned by three different companies, exports more than $150 million worth of materials from the Harbor Department-owned bulk loader, which is sandwiched on 26 acres between the harbor's east and west channels.

Kaiser International exports about 1 million tons of coal, 600,000 tons of petroleum coke, 300,000 tons of steel scrap and 200,000 tons of copper concentrate each year from the bulk loader, which the Harbor Department built in 1965 to export iron ore and coal, primarily from Kaiser Steel mines in California. Kaiser International has operated the bulk loader for the past two years.

Holdaway estimates that the operation pumps about $75 million a year into the Southern California economy, and under a lease agreement with the Harbor Department, the company will pay close to $2 million this year to the port in tariff charges, a port spokesman said.

"The mandate to the city of Los Angeles to operate Los Angeles Harbor is to promote commerce," Holdaway said. "There is no reason why recreation and industry can't live harmoniously, but recreation has to be a secondary use. Exporting generates a tremendous amount of income into this area, and people at some time have to support exports from this country. It is critical that we have them."

Since taking over the bulk loader in 1984, Kaiser International has undertaken a "good-neighbor policy" designed to improve relations between the company and nearby boaters and residents--even though Holdaway is convinced that Kaiser International is not responsible for the black gunk.

The company has installed a 700-foot-long chain-link fence with redwood slats along Miner Street, which separates the facility from the neighboring Watchorn Basin marinas, including Holiday Harbor. It has planted shrubs and trees to screen the operation from the marinas, which together have more than 800 slips. It has installed sprinkler systems to keep piles of material wet to cut down on dust, and it has begun sweeping Miner Street, where trucks hauling petroleum coke and steel scrap stir up dust that some boaters complain ends up on their decks.

"We have done everything we could within reason to be good neighbors," Holdaway said. "But boats in Los Angeles Harbor are going to get dirty. The harbor area has a fairly high amount of particulate matter in the air."

The battle between boat owners and operators of the Harbor Department's bulk loader is not a new one, port officials say, but with the recent opening of the city's 1,100-slip Cabrillo marina in the West Channel, the antagonism between industrial and recreational interests in the harbor has flared up, they said.

While most complaints about the black gunk do not come from boaters at the Cabrillo marina, those who do complain--primarily tenants at the 200-slip Holiday Harbor marina just a few yards from the bulk loader--point to the new marina as evidence that recreational uses should take priority over industrial ones in the West Channel.

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