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Coastal Commission Staff Opposes Proposed $2-Billion Port Expansion : Shipping: The report cites a loss of marine resources and waterways. The stage is set for a showdown Wednesday between the commission and port officials.


Raising a host of environmental concerns, the staff of the California Coastal Commission has urged that a proposed $2-billion expansion of the Port of Los Angeles be rejected.

The recommendation, outlined in a 42-page report, sets the stage for a showdown at Wednesday's Coastal Commission meeting between the commission staff and officials of the port and the Army Corps of Engineers to discuss plans to embark on what would be the state's largest coastal development in at least 20 years.

At issue is the corps' proposal for a dredging-and-landfill project that would deepen the port's shipping channels and increase the size of Terminal Island by 582 acres for new cargo terminals. That $550-million proposal, which comes before the Coastal Commission Wednesday, is pivotal to the port's so-called 2020 plan--a $2-billion project so named because it is designed to accommodate the expected growth in harbor commerce over the next 30 years.

But in reviewing the $550-million project, the commission's staff concluded it had too many adverse environmental consequences, including the loss of marine resources and waterways, to warrant approval.

"The commission has consistently supported construction and expansion of landfills and terminal facilities at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, recognizing the vital position that both ports hold in the regional, state and national economy," the staff report said.

"Unfortunately," it added, "the particular federal dredging and landfill project . . . now before the commission is flawed in a number of respects that prevent the commission (staff) from granting its concurrence."

While describing the report as "disappointing," officials with the port and the corps said last Wednesday that they will push forward with the project rather than withdraw it from consideration as was done with a larger 1990 dredging-and-landfill proposal in the port. That project was part of a $4.8-billion expansion plan that ran afoul of the commission staff and numerous state and federal agencies.

"We appreciate the concerns of the (commission) staff. But we have (revised) the project based on their original concerns and at this point in time, we are going to proceed with a presentation of the project to the full commission," said Frank Piccola, environmental coordinator for the corps' project.

Unlike before, Piccola added, the federal agency believes the current port expansion plan can be justified both economically and environmentally. "The other project was very ambitious. It would have been a wonderful project but it was unrealistic" because of its size, Piccola said.

But the commission's staff, as its report showed, still considers the port expansion project too large and environmentally disruptive to justify approval, particularly when the corps and the port are asking for up-front acceptance of a project that could span decades.

In its report, the commission staff concluded that the project is inconsistent with the state's Coastal Act "because fill of open coastal waters has not been minimized, marine resources are not maintained, a feasible (and) less environmentally damaging alternative was not examined, adverse impacts were not fully avoided, and adequate marine resources mitigation is not provided."

The area targeted for the project is not only used for recreational boating but is also home to a variety of sea life and birds, including the endangered California brown pelican and least tern.

Of particular concern to the commission staff is the fact that the project would eliminate 580 acres of waterways without offsetting that loss with an acre-for-acre coastal restoration project somewhere else in Southern California. To date, the staff noted, the port and the corps have pledged to restore 380 acres in north San Diego County's Batiquitos Lagoon but have not identified how the other 200 acres of lost waterways would be offset.

"We can live with a (smaller) project . . . but we cannot find this 580-acre project acceptable because it lacks" plans to adequately offset the impact to marine resources, said Larry Simon, the Coastal Commission's ports coordinator. "That's the bottom line."

To alleviate that concern, Simon said, the commission staff did--for the first time ever--open the door to a scaled-back version of the port's expansion plan by saying it would recommend approval of a 380-acre project. And that project, if approved, would still be twice as large as the biggest landfill project ever accepted by the commission--the port's 190-acre Pier 300 development in the 1980s.

But officials with the corps and the port said the project cannot be scaled back further without jeopardizing its economics. Moreover, they argued that the agencies have pledged not to begin the dredging of all 580 acres of waterways until that amount of coastal restoration acreage has been identified.

Indeed, both Piccola and Dwayne Lee, the port's deputy director of development, said the size of the port's expansion must be based on the economics of the project, not on how many acres of California's coastland will be restored by the port in coming years.

To do otherwise, they said, would hinge the project's fate on "backwards" logic.

But the commission's Simon argued that the project's scope and environmental consequences demand that the corps and port not win approval for their proposal until they have pinpointed how its impacts will be offset.

"The commission in the past has been fairly consistent in requiring that mitigation be concurrent with the project," Simon said. "And the staff's bottom line position is that we are willing to concur with a 380-acre landfill project, but we are not willing to concur with a landfill that does not have its mitigation lined up."

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