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Lawsuits against controversial LA harbor railway project move forward

A cargo ship stands on Long Beach harbour, California. If the SCIG rail yard project is approved, cargo will be transferred onto freight trains closer to the port.
A cargo ship docked at Long Beach Harbor. Long Beach joined other state and local officials as well as environmentalists to oppose the SCIG rail yard project, which would permit trucks to drop cargo into freight trains closer to the port.

An uncommon array of plaintiffs, including environmentalists, businesses, the City of Long Beach, regional air regulators, and the State of California, continue to challenge plans for a $500 million dollar railyard approved by the City of Los Angeles and its harbor commissioners. 

New court filings indicate a deep dispute over the so-called Southern California International Gateway, with a trial now set to open in November. 

The Southern California International Gateway would enable trucks to transfer containers to BNSF railway lines 4 miles from the port. BNSF argues the project will re-route freeway traffic away from an older railyard, 20 miles further away.

The Los Angeles Harbor Commission and the L.A. City Council approved an environmental impact report for the railyard project two years ago. Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the area, touted the project’s economic benefits, and the Port of L.A.’s need to remain competitive against other ports, as the Panama Canal is widened.

In opening briefs, filed in Contra Costa Superior Court, railyard opponents contend that the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act.  Lawyers argue that it will enable even more port traffic, increasing smog that causes asthma and worsens heart and lung disease. And they argue that low-income communities like Carson, Wilmington and West Long Beach will suffer "irreparable harm" from truck trips and mile-and-a-half long trains the railyard will attract.

The breadth of the opposition to the Southern California International Gateway is unusual. Barry Wallerstein, the executive officer for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, testified before the L.A. City Council that the environmental impact report overstated the project’s benefits and understated its harms. The state Attorney General's office also has sided with the project's opponents.