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In Los Angeles Middle Harbor Project To Begin; Gambol Effort Ends

By David Murray

After almost two years, the efforts of Gambol Marine Industries to develop a ship repair yard on Terminal Island came to an end this January. The 30-acre site was the location of the last shipyard to close at the Port of Los Angeles.

Gambol’s plan was judged to be in conflict with the needs of the Port of Los Angeles’s harbor deepening project, which began in 2002 and will deepen the north part of the harbor from 45 to 53 feet. Seattle-based Manson Construction Company won that $33.6 million contract in 2000.

To earn environmental credits necessary for permits to dispose of the dredge fill, the port spent almost $50 million to help restore the Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach, California.

The project generated more than 11 million cubic yards of material, according to Manson’s Web site. Dredging in the northern section of the port slowed while an effort to find and permit a site for extra dredged material was conducted. That site proved to be the Southwest Terminal. The plan was to use the dredged material to fill up slips at the disused site, behind a rock dike.

Meanwhile, the Notice To Proceed, due any day, was being awaited by another ambitious dredging project, the Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project Long Beach. Manson project manager Rich Ferguson said major dredging could begin within the next few weeks and is expected to take four to six months.

Councilwoman’s Efforts Stirred Controversy

Gambol’s main political ally, Councilwoman Janice Hahn, had persuaded the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners to hold a January hearing reconsidering its “final” decision against the plan in December.

After a contentious four-hour meeting, however, Hahn abandoned her efforts on Gambol’s behalf. As a concession, she was able to recommend that the port seek another suitable site for Gambol’s repair yard. Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said she would work to include a shipyard in Terminal Island’s master plan.

The Los Angeles City Council, which reviews the Port Authority’s decision, has already directed the port to look for a suitable shipyard location, although it said the port need not negotiate exclusively with Gambol. But Gambol has consistently argued that only the Southwest Marine terminal is suitable for what it wants to do.

Hahn’s efforts on Gambol’s behalf stirred controversy when it emerged that she accepted $12,000 in political contributions from Gambol’s president, Robert Stein, and Gambol’s law firm for her 2009 bid for lieutenant governor of California. She agreed to step down as official mediator between the port authority and Gambol in February 2010, according to the South Bay Daily Breeze.

Yard Had Long History

The decision leaves Los Angeles and Long Beach as the only two ports among the world’s top 25 in cargo volume without a major shipyard—a point often made by Stein.

The yard was built in 1917 by Southwestern Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company during World War I. In 1922, Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, Ltd. bought the site and converted it into a repair plant.

In late 1940, to support World War II shipbuilding, Bethlehem converted the site back into a combined ship repair and shipbuilding plant. Facilities were added to the south end and some earlier improvements were demolished.
After the war, when shipbuilding activity decreased, the yard again reverted to ship repairing only. In 1959, Bethlehem initiated a Cold War Improvement Program, under which four shipbuilding ways were demolished and wooden piers were replaced with high-water platforms to accommodate tower cranes.

Bethlehem sold the yard in 1981 to offset losses from its declining steel business. San Diego-based Southwest Marine, Inc. bought it and operated it as a ship repair facility until 2005.

More Fill Than Estimated

Los Angeles’s channel deepening project originally estimated it would generate 80,000 cubic yards of material for the Southwest Terminal site, but it updated that estimate to 183,000 in a later revision of the EIR. About 300,000 cubic yards of “clean fill” will also be used at the site. Meanwhile Gambol, which expanded from a yacht-builder to a commercial repair firm, wanted to spend $50 million of its own money to develop the Southwest Marine Shipyard. In 2009, it worked with the L.A. conservancy to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Port of Los Angeles.

But the Corps of Engineers estimated that developing the site could delay renewed harbor dredging by three years. The International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) also opposed Gambol’s project because of concern that its delays would put longshore jobs at risk.

Gambol’s plan split the port community. Gambol and its supporters argued that the project would not delay the channel deepening project, and would add up to 900 full-time, high-paying skilled jobs at the port. But the port revoked its MOU with Gambol in 2010. As recently as December, Stein said legal action may be necessary to resolve his disputes with the port.

Middle Harbor Dredging To Begin

Long Beach’s Board of Harbor Commissioners voted unanimously in mid-February to approve the $123 million Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project, one of Long Beach’s largest ever.

David Van Wagner, project engineer at lead contractor Manson Construction Company, said the final Notice To Proceed has not yet been issued for Middle Harbor, and offices and phone numbers have not yet been set up. He expects actual dredging to begin sometime in May.

The Middle Harbor project’s total cost is expected to top $1 billion and to take about nine years. The project’s EIR was approved in 2009. Manson and Connolly will be the lead contractors for this phase of the contract.

That will be the third major dredging project in the Los Angeles and Long Beach areas. Manson is also working on a separate channel-deepening project in the Port of Long Beach, begun in April 2010.

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