3:45pm | Port of Long Beach executive director Richard Steinke recapped a record business year in 2010, while predicting continued success and announcing more than $4 billion in infrastructure spending over the next ten years to cope with economic boom and increased trade. Steinke also said that the port is moving forward with a commitment to efficiency.
"It's all about having an environmental focus to everything that we do," he said to a full ballroom at the Hyatt in downtown Long Beach. "We are making green operations a central part of who we are and how we operate."
Steinke pointed to environmental achievements such as increased use of on-dock rail, electric ship docking, hybrid tugboats and an update to the Clean Air Action Plan. He said that the Clean Trucks Program has exceeded goals two years ahead of schedule and that it has achieved an 80% reduction in pollution since it's inauguration in October 2008.
But while it's undeniable that the port has taken impressive steps to improve its emissions, Steinke's claims are debatable on several levels. Air pollution levels are notoriously difficult to measure, for one. The 80% pollution reduction figure is not a concrete statistic, but an estimated projection based on the number of clean trucks that have replaced dirty trucks; not an actual air pollution reading that indicated an 80% improvement. It does not take into account pollution caused by ships, rail or any other forms excluding trucks. And while the port is clearly cleaning itself, it is unclear what impact these efforts will have as the port plans massive expansions to its bridges, cargo-handling facilities and other infrastructure that is designed to handle drastic increases in cargo.
The port is celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary this year, a fact not lost on Steinke. The port handled $150 billion in business in 2010, he said, adding, "That's quite a leap from the first load of lumber back in 1911." The boom year created a boost for local employment, too, as the port accounts for one in every eight jobs in Long Beach. Steinke called the immediate future "very promising, and should continue to create many jobs."
But while he championed the strength of the goods movement industry and predicted continued success, Steinke warned of danger. Competition from other west coast ports and the expansion of the Panama Canal - due to be completed in 2014 - could harm business in Long Beach, he said, claiming that the Panama expansion gives shipping companies "more options." It was a clear strategy to advocate for further infrastructure development in order to stay ahead of the curve.
In reality, other local ports from British Columbia to Mexico do not have the handling capacity nor the transportation capabilities to ship cargo quickly or efficiently enough to compete with the Port of Long Beach whether they continue to develop infrastructure or not. A panel of industry experts all agreed on this during a forum at CSULB in October. When the industry is healthy, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have no peers.
And the industry figures to be very, very healthy over the next decade.
"We have every reason to be optimistic," Steinke said.