Aging port has few options for repair

An environmental review of a plan to replace two decrepit wharves at the Port of Redwood City notes the project may result in more than the allowed amount of air pollution at the site.

There are no obvious solutions to the problem either, Port Executive Director Mike Giari said.

What is obvious is the wharves desperately need to be replaced. The wharves are the two oldest at the Port and were built on wooden pilings just as the nation was entering World War II more than 70 years ago. Though the wharves technically create two berths for ships, the current setup only allows one ship to offload its cargo at a time.

The wharves have primarily been used to import cement and other bulk cargo items. Though import levels have been down in recent years because of the recession’s drag on construction in the region, the two wharves were handling an average of 785,000 tons of cargo a year for the past five years.

The renovation of the wharves and the construction of two 30-foot-wide ramps to the shore will cost the Port about $15 million. However, that price could increase if the Port must make additional provisions to deal with smog emissions.

According to the draft environmental impact review document, when the wharves are being used at their peak capacity, emissions from the ships, tugboats, trucks and machinery will emit more pollutant nitrogen oxide than state regulations allow.
Giari said one suggested solution is to create an on-shore electrical system that would allow the offloading boats to “plug-in” — thereby using onshore electricity and reducing their emissions from idling.

While this seems like a good solution on face value, it could be more complicated to actually implement, Giari said. He said this solution has been used successfully at ports where containers are the primary cargo — but that is because cargo ships tend to all be standard and can all “plug-in” to the same onshore system.

However, bulk-cargo ships are widely variable and wouldn’t necessarily all be able to use on-shore power. Giari said it could be wasteful to build an expensive on-shore electrical system that a large proportion of ships could not use.

The Port was scheduled to meet Wednesday to hear public comment on this issue and others raised by the draft environmental impact review. The public is free to comment on the document until April 29, Giari said.

Bay Area Newsenvironmental impact reviewLocalPort of Redwood City

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