Long Beach officials answer questions about potential port construction project to deepen the waters

Officials from the Port of Long Beach and the United States Army Corp of Engineers outline plan to upgrade port and take questions about environmental concerns


Daniel Green | Signal Tribune

Col. Aaron Barta of the United State Army Corps of Engineering led a public meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 13, to explain a proposed construction project for the Port of Long Beach that would deepen the waters to allow larger ships to pass through the terminals. The proposed plan would cost $151 million and would be completed in 2027.

A meeting regarding possible upgrades to the Port of Long Beach that would deepen the waters around the port raised some questions from some members of the public regarding the potential impacts that could stem from the proposed construction.

On Wednesday, officials from the Port of Long Beach (POLB) and the United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) held two separate public meetings to explain the proposed project and gather feedback from the public regarding the port upgrades.

Col. Aaron Barta, the Los Angeles district commander for USACE, welcomed attendees to the first of the two meetings to discuss the Deep Draft Navigation Feasibility Study that was released in October 2019.

“Our goal tonight is to exchange information in several ways,” Barta said, “First, we will briefly describe the feasibility process to date, the draft finding so far and what is to come in the next steps to study-completion.”

The meeting was then turned over to Heather Schlosser, the lead planner for USACE, who explained the reason for the proposed modifications.

In her presentation, Schlosser explained that the construction will deepen the canal around the port and widen the canals to accommodate modern container vessels, that require deeper waters due to their larger size.

Schlosser cited the widening of the Panama Canal, which underwent its own upgrade, opening to commercial business in 2016, as a reason for the upgrades.

“Widening and enlargement of the Panama Canal has led to a new class of container vessels, who’s fully loaded drafts exceed current federal channel and birth depths,” Schlosser said. “This has led to one of the primary problems facing current operations, which is the inefficient operation of deep-draft container vessels and secondary and federal channels, which increases the nation’s participation costs.”

As of now, the current depth of the channels prevents larger containers from entering when the tide is low, forcing ships to wait until the sea rises to a level that allows them to enter the port.

This also forces freighters to carry less than their full capacity to avoid becoming too heavy to enter the port’s canal.

The proposed changes will allow ships to enter the port easier and increase efficiency, which will result in increased savings for the port.

Currently, the plan to update the port is in the “Public and concurrent review phase” of the study, with more phases to come, but officials hope to receive final approval for the project in 2022­–– with construction beginning in 2024.

The construction is expected to take three-and-a-half years to complete, with work being finished in 2027. The cost of the project has been priced at $151 million, which will be paid for by federal and non-federal funds.

The potential impact on the surrounding area was also discussed. One side-effect that was described as “unavoidable” is the impact to air quality that will be affected by emissions from the machinery used during construction.

During the port’s reconstruction, pollutants in the air are expected to exceed the National Ambient Air Quality standards. Along with other mitigation measures the port is proposing donations of $147,000 to Port Security Grant Program as a way to offset the side-effects of the construction.

During the public comments section attendees pressed the port officials and the USACE on the long-term effects of the project.

Heather Kryczka, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, read a statement claiming that the environmental impact statement did not address how the port will mitigate the increase in traffic.

“The agencies must also analyze how increased cargo throughput will result in overall higher levels of emissions, health impacts, truck-traffic noise, greenhouse gas emissions and other impacts on the community.” Kryczka said. “Mitigation measures must be proposed for those operational impacts.”

Andrea Hricko, a professor at University of Southern California, asked about the use of tug boats and electric dredges in the port’s reconstruction–– as well as inquiring about the contamination level of dredge from the harbor.

“One of my concerns is that sediment sampling done at the Port of Long Beach in 2009 near the Cruise Terminal showed “moderate contamination” and the material was deemed unsuitable for ocean disposal,” Hricko said. “On the other hand, sediment sampling done in 2018 near the Cruise Terminal showed “moderate contamination,” yet the City of Long Beach concluded that disposal in the ocean was acceptable.”

Officials did not respond to any of the public statements, but said they were considering all input from those in attendance.

The public is also invited to respond by Monday, Dec. 9 by emailing [email protected] or by writing to:

Mr. Eduardo T. De Mesa
Chief , Planning Division
US Army Corps of Engineers
Los Angeles District
915 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 930
Attention: Mr. Larry Smith
Los Angeles, California 90017-3401