Container Port to be Discussed Tonight
September 19, 2006
The City Council will discuss a proposal by Councilmember Rogers to assign the container port study to a “blue ribbon committee.” The following story appeared in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.
Hoping to land a share of the booming West Coast shipping business, the Port of Richmond is considering transforming a secluded wetland into a new port for container ships, a plan environmentalists call an ecological disaster.
The City Council recently voted 7-2 to direct city staff to look into a feasibility study for a new port at Wildcat Creek Marsh, a 250-acre wetland owned by Chevron on the city's northern shoreline.
The new port would bring up to 10,000 new jobs and millions in revenue to the struggling city, port leaders say.
But others call the idea a fantasy that would wreak environmental havoc on an area already plagued by some of the highest pollution levels in the region.
"I don't know why Richmond even thinks it's got a dog in this fight. We don't even own the land," said City Councilman Tom Butt. "If the port staff doesn't have enough to do, why not fire them and hire a few more cops?"
Wildcat Creek Marsh is not accessible to the public, but is a habitat for 103 bird species and the endangered salt harvest mouse and California clapper rail.
But it's also an ideal site for a container port because it's near Interstate 580 and Richmond Parkway, railroad tracks, the shipping channel in San Pablo Bay and the Chevron refinery, which presumably would be one of the port's biggest customers, port officials said. Chevron is cautiously supportive of the port idea.
But the new port is far from a reality, said Jim Matzorkis, executive director of the Port of Richmond.
"The city and the port aren't endorsing a new port. We don't even know if it's economically feasible," he said. "But there's a tremendous amount of goods that will be going through ports in the next two decades due to globalization. From a market perspective, it makes sense to look into it."
The Port of Richmond, which specializes in liquid cargo and automobiles, is nearly at capacity, Matzorkis said.
"We're looking at new business after we bring in a few more accounts," he said. "But if we're going to continue to expand, we need to acquire more land."
Ports throughout North America are looking to expand, based on predictions that international trade will double by 2020. The Port of Oakland, the fourth-busiest port in the United States, is at 60 percent capacity and is expanding into the former Oakland Army Base to accommodate an expected boom in business, said Port of Oakland spokesman Harold Jones.
Richmond has too many other problems to try to compete with the Port of Oakland, Butt said.
"Every hour and every dollar that our staff spends on this, they're not solving Richmond's immediate issues," he said.
The city's hope is that investors would pay for the feasibility study, which has not yet been started.
"There's definitely no interest on the council's part to spend money on this at this point," said Mayor Irma Anderson.
Anticipating a long fight with environmental and neighborhood groups, Councilman Jim Rogers has suggested that the council postpone the feasibility study and instead create a blue-ribbon panel to look at a range of uses for the northern shoreline.
"We need to take a step back and recognize that this isn't going to make it through five or six layers of government review," he said. "If anything's going to happen out there, you need to have agreement amongst the different parties."
To build a new port, the marsh and a 50-foot-deep channel would have to be dredged. The mud is most likely contaminated because of its proximity to the Chevron refinery, which has been processing petrochemicals at the site for more than a century, and disposal would be costly and time consuming, said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay.
"Building a new container port is a massive proposal," he said. "It's not just a dock -- it's road and rail links, and involves building on a huge amount of land."
Even though it's privately owned, the marsh is protected by city, state and federal environmental laws, he said.
In general, ports bring huge amounts of noise and pollution from the increased truck and rail traffic, Lewis said. North Richmond is already home to numerous refineries, chemical plants and other polluting industries.
"We think it's an idea worth investigating because it could mean jobs and money for the city of Richmond," said Chevron spokeswoman Camille Priselac. "But I want to emphasize that it's the city's idea, not our project."
Port of Richmond by the numbers
Top cargo: 90 percent of the port's cargo is crude oil headed to the Chevron refinery. The rest is other liquid cargo including gas, jet fuel, motor oil and other petrochemicals; dry bulk such as sand, bauxite and green coke; scrap metal; and automobiles.
20 million tons a year go through the port.
Number of permanent employees: 5. Longshoremen are hired as temporary workers by individual tenants.
Number of tenants: About a dozen, including Chevron.
Total acres: About 1,000, 200 of which are public.
Revenue: $5 million for the public side of the port
E-mail Carolyn Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.