In a move that surprised and delighted clean-air activists, the Port of Los Angeles staff on Friday backed London-based P & O Nedlloyd Container Line's bid in the acrimonious contest to build a so-called "green terminal" at the nation's largest port.
The firm's proposal is the most environmentally sound of five bids and would bring in the most revenue for the port, the staff concluded in a report to the Harbor Commission, which is scheduled to choose a shipping firm Wednesday.
P & O Nedlloyd became the favored bidder among some activists who considered its earlier attempts to win the terminal to be the most environmentally sound.
"P & O has shown a real willingness to go green in a big way, and it's terrific that the port has recognized it," said Julie Masters, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Under P & O Nedlloyd's proposal, the port would receive $57.1 million over five years. The firm also promised to install new smog-reducing technology for use with all its docked ships within three years.
The report is the latest step in the fierce contest for the four prime berths on Terminal Island. Several of the world's largest shipping lines have jockeyed for a five-year lease, in a stop-and-go selection process that has bewildered and angered the shipping firms.
Last month, attorneys for P & O Nedlloyd filed a court petition to halt the process, claiming that the port appeared to be favoring Evergreen Marine Corp.
On Friday evening, a P & O Nedlloyd official said he was relieved to learn that his company may win the lease.
"This is a very happy moment for us," said Robert A. Agresti, executive vice president of the firm's North American operations. "We will work as hard as we can to make this the greenest terminal on the planet."
The search for a tenant first drew widespread attention because of the port's promise that the new terminal would employ cutting-edge technology to reduce air pollution from ships and yard equipment. The Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, the largest air polluter in Southern California, is facing growing community concerns about the health effects of diesel emissions and other air pollution.
In recent months, the bidding process has been tarnished by claims that it might be rigged to benefit Taiwan-based Evergreen or another competitor, Yusen Terminals Inc., a subsidiary of Tokyo-based NYK. In court papers, P & O Nedlloyd said it was close to signing a contract with the port nearly two years ago when a representative of Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn instructed port officials to meet with Evergreen instead.
City Controller Laura Chick announced in November that she would scrutinize interim port Executive Director Bruce Seaton's decision to throw out proposals from an earlier bidding process and start again.
P & O Nedlloyd promised to produce the most revenue for the port, followed by Orient Overseas Container Line at $55.5 million, Evergreen at $49.4 million and Pasha Stevedoring & Terminals at $13.2 million, said the staff report, which did not include a figure for Yusen because the firm proposed consolidating the site with its adjoining terminal.
Environmental concerns overshadowed finances in negotiations over the site, and clean-air groups expressed outrage when Seaton halted the bidding process and started anew. They called P & O Nedlloyd's proposal the least polluting approach.
Central to plans for a "green terminal" is the notion that docked ships should be able to turn off their diesel-burning engines and plug into onshore electric power. The first such terminal in the nation, leased by China Shipping, opened earlier this year at the port.
Of the five bidders, only two clearly promised to meet the port's requirement that 70% of docked ships use electricity within three years, with P & O Nedlloyd vowing to exceed the requirements. By the end of the third year, the company said, all of its ships at the terminal would use electricity while docked.
Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas said it too could meet the port goals. Yusen said it hoped to comply but had to depend on customers retrofitting ships or building new ones.