San Joaquin River DOTMDL -- Technical Working Group

Groups speak out against port operations plan

Stockton Record - May 21, 2004
By Audrey Cooper

Plans to expand the Port of Stockton's operations on Rough and Ready Island are drawing attacks from neighbors and environmentalists who claim the expansion will aggravate water pollution, air pollution, noise and other problems.

On Monday, the port's directors are expected to finalize an environmental report that outlines what steps the port will take to head off any pollution problems. But neighbors and environmental groups say the report doesn't order enough ways to limit pollution.

One thing all sides seem to agree upon is that the fight almost certainly will be resolved in a courtroom.

The expansion plans include upgrading parts of Rough and Ready Island, a former naval base turned over to the port in 2000. The $25 million expansion includes dredging about a mile-long stretch of the Stockton Deep Water Channel, adding roads and bridges, and upgrading other parts of the island.

At least six Stockton communities could be affected when the port is expanded and able to accept more freight ships. The Smith Canal neighborhood, Atherton Island, Atherton Cove, Riviera Cliffs, Brookside and Boggs Tract could be affected by the air pollution, noise and water pollution, neighbors say.

The number of ships accepted at the port could increase from the current 20 per year to as many as 150, according to some reports.

Port Director Richard Aschieris says there likely will be at most one or two ships at a time berthed at the island.

"We're trying hard to do everything we can to find ways to work with the neighbors short of mothballing the island and the port," Aschieris said Thursday.

But Ann Chargin, a Riviera Cliffs resident for the past 35 years, said the port hasn't informed neighbors about the full extent of the expansion plans. When Chargin moved in, there were some naval boats that used the island. Later, nothing was tied at the docks.

On Thursday, a rust-colored freighter registered in Amsterdam was being loaded with rice for Japanese customers.

Faint wafts of diesel smoke rolled into her neighborhood, and the shipping activities could be heard indoors. Other ships produce even more visible pollution, she said.

Chargin, who's group of neighbors call themselves Stockton Standing Up, dismisses claims the expansion will mean more jobs for San Joaquin County residents. The jobs will come only from other areas -- such as the Port of Sacramento -- and workers will commute to Stockton, she says.

"These plans are being jammed down the throat of local residents, and the port is whitewashing the serious environmental problems they will cause," she said.

International ships don't have to comply with local clean-air laws and produce some of the most dangerous diesel fumes, environmentalists say. The Bluewater Network, an environmental group, argues that a large ship traveling at 20 knots can emit as much pollution as 350,000 new cars.

Aschieris said that statistic is misleading. No ship travels faster than 8 knots in the Stockton channel, he said.

Also, it would take about 1,323 polluting big rigs to carry the cargo that one ship carries, he said.

Local residents also have complained officials are unwilling to take a realistic look at the 24-hour noise at the port. Atherton Island resident Lyle Burgess said the port has offered to install air conditioning and dual-pane windows in residents' homes.

"I don't want to be a prisoner in my own home," Burgess said, adding the port could require ships to use onshore power that would reduce the noise.

Other problems might be harder to fix, argues Bill Jennings, head of the Stockton-based group DeltaKeeper. More ships mean more ballast water dumped into the fragile Delta estuary, he said.

The ballast water collected in foreign waters can carry pathogens, diseases, invasive species and extremely salty water that could be dumped at the port. The port's environmental review fails to adequately address the problem, Jennings said.

Aschieris said ships are required to dump ballast water at sea. The few ships that sometimes discharge ballast water in the Delta have never been proved to be a source of water-quality problems, he said.

The commissioners who oversee the port will discuss the environmental review at a public hearing at 3:30 p.m. Monday at 16 Embarcadero on Rough and Ready Island.

For more information, call (209) 946-0246. #

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