Under increasing pressure from City Hall, officials at the Los Angeles Harbor Department have drafted a plan to move the port's largest exporter of coal and petroleum coke away from recreational areas of the harbor.
The preliminary plan calls for relocating a port-owned facility used by the export company from the harbor's largely recreational West Channel to a remote area of Terminal Island. The exporter, Kaiser International Corp., leases and operates the so-called "bulk loader," a 26-acre facility used to store and load commodities for export.
The plan, expected to be approved by the Board of Harbor Commissioners next month, commits the Harbor Department for the first time to a specific timetable for relocation, something port officials have talked about for several years. Under one scenario, the bulk loader would be relocated by February, 1993, while another scenario--described as more realistic by port officials--calls for the move by February, 1994.
"We agree that the ultimate solution is to basically separate this facility from the public facilities," said Sid Robinson, the port's director of planning and research, in announcing the plan last week. Robinson and other officials presented the plan at a special meeting of the City Council's Industry and Economic Development Committee Friday.
The port has been under intense pressure from San Pedro residents and pleasure boaters to move the facility, which they say is the source of black dust that pollutes the air and damages some boats. Based on complaints from boaters, regional air quality officials in March refused to issue Kaiser International two essential operating permits. The company continues to operate while the permit denials are being appealed.
Last year, Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents the harbor area and chairs the industry committee, formed a task force to look into the dust problem, but Flores and several members of the group have complained that the Harbor Department, also a member of the task force, has been dragging its feet. Port officials have denied that they have delayed the group's work but have said there is no conclusive evidence linking Kaiser International to the offending dust.
Frustrated by the lack of progress, Flores in August introduced a motion to the City Council calling on the Harbor Department to relocate the bulk loader and two nearby tenants that store oil and chemicals near the West Channel. The motion--which passed 11 to 0--also asks the department to refrain from writing new leases or renewing existing leases with the tenants until relocation plans are approved.
The plan to move the bulk loader "is kind of an admission (by the port) that maybe there are some things needed to improve the situation," Flores said Tuesday. "And for the first time, they are acknowledging that there even is a situation to improve."
In addition to the relocation plan, the port announced that it will hire a consultant to come up with "mitigation measures" to help control dust during the next several years. Among the ideas that will be considered, Robinson said, is building a landscaped berm along the western edge of the property and erecting a tall fence on top of it.
The consultant will also look into paving dirt parking lots in the area, removing abandoned bags of sandblasting material, and possibly creating so-called "dead chambers" around the bulk loader's car dumper to collect dust. Boaters say the car dumper, where railroad cars loaded with coal and petroleum coke are emptied, is one of the primary sources of dust.
Robinson said the dead chambers would be enclosed areas on either side of the dumper. Dusty railroad cars would pass through the chambers both before and after dumping their cargo, thereby reducing the amount of dust that escapes, he said. Robinson said the idea is preliminary and that it is not yet known if it would be technically feasible.
Ezunial Burts, executive director of the port, said the port is also moving ahead with plans to relocate a Union Oil tank farm near the Cabrillo Marina and several petrochemical tanks owned by GATX Corp near the bulk loader. Burts said a landfill island will be created near Terminal Island when material is dredged from the harbor to create a deep-water channel to the proposed bulk loader. Union Oil, GATX and other companies, he said, will be required to move to the island or move away from the port.
Flores said she is encouraged by the port's plans, but some San Pedro residents are not. Beatrice Atwood Hunt, president of a small San Pedro environmental group, said the port should consider moving the bulk loader out of Los Angeles Harbor.
Richard E. Holdaway, president of Kaiser International, said he supports moving the bulk loader to Terminal Island, but he asked the committee not to "handicap" the company in the meantime by imposing unreasonable conditions on its operations.
"We would like to appeal to the Council and the Harbor Department to give us some support and allow us to continue to operate without being harassed and inhibited in our ability to be competitive," Holdaway said.
Flores said the Harbor Department will report to her committee again once it has completed its relocation plans. At that time, she said, she will consider setting up a monitoring board that will track the port's progress in meeting its deadlines.
"I want to see if there are any penalties or incentives that we can establish to make sure the port really moves on this," Flores said. "Last year and the year before we heard from them that it would take five years, this year we heard it would take five years, and now we are up to six years. . . . I want to make sure this one stays on track."