The Port of Los Angeles imported nearly 117,000 more cargo containers than it exported over a recent 20-month period, heightening concerns in Wilmington about the large number of empty containers stored there.
"At what point do we have enough?" harbor-area Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores asked port officials at a Los Angeles City Council committee meeting last week. "Are we going to store them forever?"
Flores and community leaders have long complained about the storage of containers in Wilmington, but the statistics released last week for the first time shed light on the potential magnitude of the problem.
Although the Los Angeles Harbor Department does not keep track of containers once they enter the port--many are shipped inland on trucks and trains--city officials said the import-export imbalance is a clear indication that a large number of containers sit empty in the harbor area once they are unloaded.
During a 20-month period ending in August, the port imported nearly 900,000 containers, including 100,000 that were already empty, according to port statistics. During the same period, the port exported 783,000 containers, including 227,000 that were empty. The average container is 20 feet long, 8 feet high and 8 feet wide and resembles the trailer portion of a truck-trailer rig.
"I can check how the trade balance is between the United States and other countries by figuring out how many containers are stored in my district," Flores said. "It is getting to be an onerous problem."
The statistics on cargo containers were contained in a report prepared by the Harbor Department for the council's Commerce, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Flores heads. Flores asked the department last year to begin monitoring the movement and storage of containers in Wilmington in an effort to come up with ways to reduce truck traffic in residential areas and eliminate unsightly storage yards.
Harbor Department Analyst Peter Mandia said the port is exploring the possibility of opening storage yards further inland, but the report prepared for the council cautioned that storage yards in Wilmington will not disappear even then, because shipping lines need some "near dock" storage.