City to Approve Payment of Legal Fees as BNSF Challenge to SCIG Ruling Moves Forward

 

A rendering of the controversial Southern California International Gateway project, the subject of a legal dispute between Long Beach, Los Angeles and BNSF. 

The Long Beach City Council will vote tonight to allocate another payment to the law firm that’s represented the city in its battle with BNSF Railway and the City of Los Angeles over the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) rail yard project as the case moves forward through an appeals process that could conclude as early as the end of this year.

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Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais said that the vote tonight to allocate another $300,000 payment to Shute, Mihaly & Weinberg LLP, the firm that successfully represented the city’s efforts to block the project last year, will serve as payment for the brief that will be submitted on behalf of the city. The last time the city approved such a payment to the firm was in September 2015.

Mais said that at that point the court will set a date for oral arguments to resume in the case of the SCIG rail yard project, something that he expects to happen around the end of summer or early in the fall. Once oral arguments conclude a decision will be issued within 90 days. He cited the judge’s previous ruling—a 200-page decision that cited multiple flaws in how the EIR was conducted—as something that has the city feeling “confident about the ultimate outcome.”


 

The currently blocked project would have created an influx of pollution and noise to the borders of West Long Beach with an estimated two million trips of trucks and trains per year using the rail yard to unload shipping containers.

Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Barry P. Goode’s ruling found that the 24-hour facility’s EIR did not adequately address noise impacts to surrounding neighborhoods that would have awakened residents when nighttime trains passed through.

SCIG was touted as a green alternative to traditional truck traffic that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase efficiency at the port as cargo could be carried between the docks and the rail yard by trains operating round-the-clock. Goode’s 2016 ruling left the company with multiple options including carrying out an EIR that satisfied the court, scrapping the project or appealing Goode’s ruling.

BNSF, one of the largest freight and railroad companies on the continent, filed a notice of appeal in August 2016 with its legal counsel stating that the ruling is incorrect due to the court’s application of an “inappropriate evidentiary standard” adding that it disregarded the project’s “comprehensive” eight-year environmental review.

The company’s Executive Vice President of Law and Corporate Affairs and Chief Legal Officer Roger Nober said the company was very concerned about the decision’s application of what BNSF believes is an incorrect and unprecedented expansion of the scope of California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), adding that the ruling could set a negative precedent affecting future rail developments in the region.


 

“Unless this ruling is promptly and entirely reversed, building SCIG is less likely due to the costs and delay brought on by the CEQA lawsuits,” Nober said. “BNSF is committed to its customers and will continue to provide world-class service without SCIG. This ruling is a loss for the region and it sends a strong message that green investment is unwelcome in California. The community and broader region won't benefit from the traffic reductions, air quality improvements and good jobs SCIG would have brought."

The court battle has lasted over four years and has included protests from community groups and advocates of the communities that stood to be negatively affected by increased traffic on the city’s West Side.

The City of Long Beach was joined by a number of those groups as well as the Long Beach Unified School District and the South Coast Air Quality Management District as petitioners when the suit was originally filed in 2013.



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