A legal dispute over the definition of the words "erect position" was at the heart of an unsuccessful effort Tuesday to prevent four giant cranes from being delivered to a new Port of Los Angeles terminal -- a move praised by industry but opposed by environmentalists.
Hoping to take advantage of an extremely low tide that will enable the 16-story cranes to fit under the Vincent Thomas Bridge, port officials plan to move the cranes today, upright on a vessel, to the still-unfinished China Shipping terminal.
A coalition of community activists and environmentalists has complained that the first environmental review of the terminal project was inadequate, and last week persuaded a three-judge panel to halt terminal construction, pending further review of how the project would affect the nearby community.
The coalition argued that the order by the 2nd District Court of Appeal staying completion of the terminal barred "erection and operation" of the cranes.
In an emergency motion filed with the court Tuesday morning, attorneys for the Natural Resources Defense Council argued that if the cranes were to be delivered, they would have to be laid on their sides or stored at an alternative site.
But the court sided with port authorities, who said the cranes were already assembled when they were shipped from Shanghai and could not be offloaded or stored in a horizontal position without risk of damage.
In essence, the port argued that it did not erect the cranes -- they arrived vertical -- and thus they can be unloaded.
"We are disappointed with the court's decision," said coalition attorney Julie Masters. "But those cranes still cannot operate pending completion of the environmental review."
In a letter to the port's director, Mayor James K. Hahn urged the port to store the cranes away from the disputed terminal.
The cranes, bought by China Shipping for about $7 million each, are to be placed on specially designed rails and outfitted with aircraft warning lights.