[Source: Press Telegram] The Port of Long Beach plans to put a price tag on the environmental damage it causes the community, a figure some residents say isn’t hardly high enough to cover the true cost.
The body overseeing the port will vote Monday to pay $46.4 million to a compensation fund used to help residents deal with pollution and other environmental impacts created by the nation’s second busiest seaport.
Lori Ann Guzman, president of the Harbor Commission, called it an example of the port’s “longstanding and long-term commitment to the environment and the community.”
Mitigation grants are nothing unusual at the ports of Los Angeles or Long Beach, the single largest source of pollution in Southern California.
But what makes this effort different is that it’s not tied to a construction project or a lawsuit, like a lawsuit for $50 million one neighbors’ group settled with the Port of Los Angeles over the expansion of the China Shipping terminal.
The funds would be dispersed over 12 to 15 years and are intended to provide a steady funding source for programs that combat poor air and water quality, traffic and noise caused by the ports.
The money is equivalent to about one percent of the port’s operating budget this year.
The initiative will also be accompanied by a report that acknowledges the port’s effect on residents’ health. In it the port estimates that in 2014 it spewed 7,807 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide and 357 tons of particulate matter, linked to asthma and decreased lung function.
Residents have long complained about the area’s higher-than-average rates of asthma that be caused by exhaust from diesel powered trucks and equipment.
“This type of program is well overdue,” said Angelo Logan, policy director at the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College.
But he said, the amount of money is paltry.
“The port’s study estimates the impact cost in one year is $46 million and will try to offset those impacts in essence with $4 million a year for about 12 years,” he said. “Four million dollars a year is a drop in the bucket and our children’s health deserve more than that.”
Ironically it was activists like Logan, who lives in Long Beach and protested the 2015 expansion of Mitsubishi Cement Corp. terminal, who helped inspire the port program.
Amid protests from community members, the port agreed to pay $340,000 in community grants to expand operations at the Mitsubishi terminal from four acres to six acres. The growth enabled the company to bring in more building material and feed the region’s growing construction industry.
Under California’s environmental rules, in order for certain projects like Mitsubishi to move forward, developers must offer concessions to offset environmental damage such as air pollution, water contamination, traffic and noise. Many developers pay for community grants that go to nonprofits that help the environment.
At the time Harbor Commissioner Tracy Egoscue, an environmental lawyer, defended the plans before a packed Long Beach City Council, where residents and activists expressed dismay at the minimal compensation for their health.
The City Council approved the project 6-2, with councilmembers Roberto Uranga and Lena Gonzalez, who represent the communities next to the port, voting against it.
Cost of doing business
Egoscue said she knew she had to come up with a better solution to stem pollution. This new fund is it.
“I feel very strongly that we are there to represent the community,” she said. “I have to speak for the parents of the children who have asthma. Long Beach has the highest rate of asthma in LA County.”
Programs eligible for funding include those that provide air filters, landscaping, sound insulation, electric vehicles, health programs and traffic calming measures near the port.
“I am hoping what Long Beach is doing is setting an example as to how a port can set aside funds for mitigation,” said Ben Schirmer, who heads the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation, an independent body set up to offset environmental damage from the TraPac terminal expansion at Port of Los Angeles.
This should be part of the cost of doing business, he said.
Back in 2009, the Port of Long Beach developed a Community Mitigation Grant Program that has since doled $18.1 million and supported 120 projects that include asthma education, landscaping, energy-efficient projects and new air filters and windows to keep out pollutants.
But those funds were tied to construction of Middle Harbor, the Gerald Desmond Bridge, improvements at Pier S, and the expansion of Mitsubishi Cement Terminal
So when the money dried up, so too did the programs.
Dr. Elisa Nicholas, who heads the Children’s Clinic Serving Children and their Family with Asthma, has received mitigation funds. But she said it’s been frustrating to see layoffs of community health workers when the dollars dry up.
Health programs work, she said.
“We know kids living near busy roadways actually have decreased lung growth,” she said. “We know if you clean up the air, and we also work with the (families) to take their medication and manage their asthma, we can decrease the effects in general.”
Source: Press Telegram
July 23, 2016