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Los Angeles City Council approves railyard project near Port of LA [updated]

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 in Long Beach harbor. The SCIG railyard project is designed to shorten the trip for trucks transferring cargo from ships onto freight trains.

The L.A. City Council has approved a controversial $500 million railyard project near the Port of Los Angeles.  The council voted 11 to 2 to in favor of the project, known as the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG). An environmental group is vowing a lawsuit to stop the project.

The site for the railyard is in Wilmington; it would shorten the trips for cargo trucks transferring cargo from ships onto freight trains. The project's backers, including labor and business interests, say a new railyard transfer site will reduce pollution and create thousands of jobs.

Community activists, environmental groups and regional air regulators opposed the project. They argue that it will increase pollution, particularly in poor communities. 

The opponents included a senior air quality official. Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, told the council that he believes the project's environmental benefits have been overblown.

"BNSF [the project's backer] and the port argue that pollution levels in the adjacent community will be lower," said Wallerstein. "Our review with our air quality experts indicates that that is not so, that the EIR [environmental impact report] overstates future pollution levels without SCIG, making the project appear more beneficial" than it would be.  

But Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the area, argued that the project is necessary to ensure the port's future competititveness in light of thewidening of the Panama Canal

An official with the Natural Resources Defense Council told KPCC that the group will file a lawsuit seeking to block the railyard project. The environmental organization hopes to persuade a judge that the EIR was flawed.

City councilman and mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti was absent for the vote.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement saying the railyard will improve the environment at the port and in the region. 

"I realize, however, that some community members remain concerned about the project," the mayor said. "I have asked the Port and my staff to continue discussions with them to try to address those concerns." 

This story was updated at 5:54 p.m. May 8, 2013