A rendering of the proposed BNSF Southern California International Gateway rail yard.
Citing flaws in how the environmental impact report was conducted, a Contra Costa Superior Court Judge handed down a final ruling on the proposed BNSF Railway’s Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) project, stating that the Port and City of Los Angeles must complete “a more robust and accurate analysis” of possible environmental impacts before proceeding.
The announcement comes after over three years of contentious litigation and protests from communities that stood to be impacted by the rail-yard, especially those in West Long Beach. A number of groups, including the City of Long Beach, Long Beach Unified School District and the South Coast Air Quality Management District were among the original petitioners that filed suit after LA and its port adopted the EIR in 2013.
Judge Barry P. Goode, who in March handed down a similar ruling regarding the deficiencies in the methods used by Los Angeles, again rejected the findings of the EIR. The final ruling mandates that the project approval be vacated and any project activities suspended until it's brought into compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), leaving the Port and BNSF with several options, including carrying out a new EIR or potentially scrapping the project altogether. They have 60 days to appeal the decision.
If approved, the SCIG project could have resulted in a huge influx of pollution, both in the form of noise and greenhouse gas emissions. Estimates placed the level of traffic from trucks and trains utilizing the facility at about two million trips per year, with approximately 1.5 million shipping containers being unloaded annually. Because it was slated to be built on public land, the project required CEQA certification.
The court found that the analysis of the impacts of this traffic increase was improper because it measured average noise impacts at the facility instead of accounting for the maximum acceptable levels of single noise events. The rail yard was slated to be a 24-hour facility, which led to opponents arguing that residents would be awakened from sleep when nighttime trains passed through, ones that would exceed local noise ordinances.
Long Beach’s lawsuit against the project also claimed that the EIR failed to properly address the impacts on air quality, adding that it “systematically understates the project's environmental impacts”, something that was upheld by Goode’s ruling.
“We understand that the Port of Los Angeles provides an important economic engine to the region, but that doesn’t mean that it can bypass laws designed to protect the environment and public health,” Long Beach Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais said in a release. “The Port of Los Angeles was required to do its best to limit the environmental harm of this project, and the court agreed with petitioners that the Port’s efforts fell far short.”
The West Long Beach community, which is already impacted by traffic from the 710 Freeway and the Port of Long Beach, already experienced a life expectancy that is about seven years shorter than those in East Long Beach and the city as whole has a child asthma rate (15 percent) that’s nearly twice the regional average.
Mayor Robert Garcia, who called the March ruling a huge win for the West Long Beach community, issued a statement reiterating the importance of the court’s ruling and its mandate for stronger protections for the communities that would border the proposed project site.
“This ruling affirms that the proposed project cannot proceed without additional measures to protect Long Beach neighborhoods which is a win for Long Beach and Westside residents," Garcia said.