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Trading Money for Health Again in Richmond?

The following appeared in Saturday’s West County Times. Also, see Honda Port of Entry May Not Be Good For Your Health - DEIR Out For Public Comment, July 28, 2008. I firmly believe that this project can happen with its environmental impacts mitigated. We just have to have the will and the ingenuity.

Richmond looks to Honda deal to generate millions of dollars through port, but plan also would add emissions

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Article Launched: 08/01/2008 05:57:29 PM PDT

Richmond is near to finalizing a deal with American Honda Motor Co. to move 150,000 cars a year through its port, a contract that could bring about $100 million in revenue over 15 years.

The deal would be a major boon to the city coffers, but it also would carry environmental impacts, including one deemed to be "significant and unavoidable," according to the draft environmental impact report. Operations would generate emissions of nitrogen oxides that would exceed the state standard more than 10 times.

"Although mitigation measures have been identified to reduce the project's air emissions, they would still substantially exceed the (Bay Area Air Quality Management District) threshold," according to the document.

Nitrogen oxides alone aren't considered harmful to people, but they contribute to smog, which can irritate the lungs and trigger asthma, said Aaron Richardson, a spokesman for the air district.

A provision in California law allows applications with emissions above state thresholds to move forward if economic or social benefits outweigh the environmental effects. The city of Richmond would need to file a Statement of Overriding Consideration outlining such benefits.

The draft environmental impact report, released in early July, is available for public comment through Aug. 18.

Richmond isn't the only Bay Area city to serve as an entry point for big auto companies. Shipments of Toyota vehicles began entering the Port of Benicia in 2006.

Terminal operators at the Port of Oakland also handle cars, shipping some to Hawaii, but a port spokeswoman could not specify what kind of cars move through that facility.

The Port of Richmond began handling Hyundai and Kia cars in 2004, with shipments totaling about 96,000 vehicles a year. Adding Honda to the mix would more than double the port's car volume.

Under the proposed deal with Honda, a new rail yard would be built at the Point Potrero Marine Terminal so imported Hyundai, Kia and Honda cars could be loaded directly onto trains for distribution to sellers, instead of being driven to a rail yard a mile away and loaded onto trains. Other improvements would include repairs to an existing ship berth.

The changes, estimated at $32 million, are designed to make operations more efficient and to make the port more marketable. Construction is expected to take about seven months.

Auto Warehousing Co., which operates the vehicle-processing facility at the port, would finance the improvements initially, Port Director Jim Matzorkis said. If the environmental impact report is approved and a deal finalized, the city would reimburse the company through money from bonds.

The company would agree to bring in a certain volume of cars for 15 years, essentially guaranteeing revenue, Matzorkis said. The company would reimburse the city if it didn't meet the targets.

Pollution would decrease because construction of the new rail yard would cut out the trip to the yard that's used now, according to the draft environmental impact report.

However, emissions of nitrogen oxides are projected to be as much as 2,327 pounds a day, an increase of 1,175 pounds a day from existing operations, the report says. That's well above the state threshold of 80 pounds a day. The draft environmental report outlines eight measures to reduce emissions, but that would not be enough to drop those levels to what the law requires.

In addition, the project would increase ship traffic in the Bay by 60 to 75 ships per year, increase truck traffic on nearby roads and generate emissions of some pollutants, according to the environmental report. Required measures could reduce these to less-than-significant levels.

Some residents have submitted letters, citing concerns about increased noise and rail traffic that could block intersections and delay traffic, including ambulances and other emergency vehicles.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@ bayareanewsgroup.com.

Honda Port Of Entry

·  The draft environmental impact report is available on the city of Richmond's Web site at www.ci.richmond.ca.us/index.asp?NID=1448. A copy of the document also is available at Richmond City Hall, 1401 Marina Way South.

·  The deadline for written comments is 5 p.m. Aug. 18.

·  Public meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Richmond City Council chambers, 1401 Marina Way South.