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L.A. Council rejects 1,000-job shipyard plan for fear of complicating port's channel-deepening project

February 1, 2011 |  4:46 pm

There will be no new ship-building and repair yard at the Port of Los Angeles. At least not for now.

The City Council on Tuesday voted to scuttle a developer’s plan to revive the former site of the Southwest Marine yard, once a major ship-building and repair facility. The $50-million proposal by Gambol Industries of Long Beach envisioned a revitalized, state-of-the-art yard that would create more than 1,000 jobs and restore a historic complex that churned out Navy destroyers during World War II.

Lining up behind the concept during the last two years were elected officials, labor unions and conservationists eager to restore the Southwest Marine plant.

However, Port of Los Angeles officials objected. The Board of Harbor Commissioners argued that the shipbuilding idea would interfere with a more urgent priority -- deepening the main channel at the aging port to accommodate a new generation of super-sized container vessels and keep the port globally competitive.

The issue was especially timely, officials said, because ongoing improvements of the Panama Canal would allow the large new vessels to pass through. Without the widening at the Port of Los Angeles, officials argued, big ships from Asia may opt to bypass Los Angeles and head directly to deep ports on the Gulf and East coasts of the United States.

The Southwest Marine site, port staff maintained, could be put to a more critical use -- as a permanent storage zone for large amounts of contaminated sediment dredged from the harbor floor as part of the channel-deepening project. Officials said there was no ready alternate site for the polluted sludge. Proceeding with the shipyard proposal, the Board of Harbor Commissioners concluded, would inevitably delay the crucial channel-widening plan.

On Tuesday, the council sided with the board and ditched the shipyard project.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district includes the port, said she had hoped to craft a compromise that would accommodate both projects -- the shipyard and the channel-deepening.  But it couldn’t be done, concluded Hahn, who stressed that she didn’t want to risk pushing back the channel improvements.

“We can’t have a win-win situation,” said Hahn. “It’s a crying shame.”

Benjamin M. Reznik, an attorney for Gambol Industries, argued that both projects could have proceeded. The city had missed an opportunity, he said. “You blew it,” Reznik told council members. “It’s a sad day when you do that.”

The council directed the port staff to research other potential places for a shipyard. But Reznik said there was no other comparable site. Port officials were also asked to report back on the preservation of historic buildings at the former Southwest Marine shipyard.

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-- Patrick J. McDonnell at Los Angeles City Hall

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