Existing Bay area ports have significant excess capacity
Vallejo Marine Terminal - A Whiff of Petroleum in the Air
Comparing the described operation of the proposed Vallejo Marine Terminal with a recent Maritime Cargo Monitoring Report produced by the Bay Area permitting authority leads inescapably to one of two conclusions. Either the applicants did no research at all in developing their business plan, or they know very well that what they describe is completely unrealistic and they intended to pull the wool over the eyes of a gullible Planning Commission, our City Council, and a disengaged public. Either way, approval of these permits would predictably result in long term operations and impacts that bear little resemblance to what our planning commission and council will be pressured to approve with bullying tactics from hired gun attorneys.
The project description as it appears in the permit applications and the draft Environmental Impact Report features hyperbolic puffery about establishing “a key site for multi-modal and intermodal transportation and logistics.” Stripped to it’s basics, the original project consisted of the construction of a ship and barge docking facility and lay down area for cargo with a cement mill as an anchor tenant. The VMT Project Operations section of the City staff report recommending denial includes the following description:
“The VMT component of the project would primarily service dry bulk and break-bulk cargoes as
outlined previously. Liquid bulk cargoes, municipal waste, coal, petroleum coke or other
petroleum based products, or large-scale container operations will not be handled through the
VMT Terminal. While the primary focus of VMT operations would be the import/export and
transportation of aggregate materials, the terminal would be designed to include both shipping
and receiving of a wide range of products.” The bit about not handling liquid bulk cargo (think oil), municipal waste, coal, or petroleum products was added after circulating the draft EIR to quiet mounting public suspicions that this is a stealth application. That addition would seem to have closed the door on shipping coal or barging garbage - but they aren't finished yet:
“As previously noted, if the Project is approved, modifications to the approved list of commodities that could be handled through the VMT Terminal in the future would require review by the City of Vallejo and an amendment to the applicant's use permit, which would be subject to a discretionary process and subsequent environmental review under CEQA.” That last sentence refers to a noteworthy late edition that very recently showed up in the draft version of a final EIR, intending to make sure the door to petroleum products and garbage is left unlocked.
The City staff report includes a list of possible materials that might move through a developed marine terminal facility, including some revisions added after circulating the draft EIR for comment:
The VMT Terminal is anticipated to handle a wide range of commodities including the following:
- Feed grains
- Manufactured steel
- Rock, aggregate, ores, and related materials (including granulated blast furnace slag
(GBFS), portland cement clinker material (clinker), pozzolan, anhydrite/gypsum,
limestone, and related materials used by Orcem)
- Project-based break-bulk items (i.e., heavy lift transport, large construction assemblies)
- Other bulk and break-bulk commodities
- Marine construction materials
- Portland cement (finished milled product)
The staff report goes on to say that: “The overall volume of cargo handled through the VMT Terminal would be expected to increase over the first several years of operation in response to market demand.” The applicants have spent millions on a technically dense and jargon-filled environmental review document in support of a project application based on that assumption. It’s reasonable to then expect that current readily available data-driven projections would support the anticipated market demand increase for the dry bulk and break bulk cargo they intend to service. So what does the maritime cargo reporting show about the potential demand in the Bay area for the operation described in the application? It shows quite the opposite - significant excess current capacity coupled with declining demand.
The Maritime Cargo Report shows the break bulk cargo described as a primary focus of a proposed Vallejo Marine Terminal vanished years ago.
Demand for Break Bulk and Neo-Bulk categories used less than a fifth of the existing available port capacity reserved for those products. Overall, neo-bulk cargo levels have dropped 64 percent since 1994. Why then are we still talking about it today as a significant component of a financially well-backed business plan associated with a sixty-six year lease term? While the dry bulk category offered as the primary VMT focus has shown some moderate growth over the past two decades, it uses less than two-thirds of the port capacity already in place with no significant surge in demand anywhere in sight. The Bay Commission staff clearly isn't expecting any such increase: "The forecasts were first prepared in 1988 and project cargo volumes through 2020. The Commission will likely consider future proposals to delete port priority use areas from the plan and will need accurate demand projections and capacity assessments to support its decisions."
Does this sound like an operation at all likely to return the investment of the millions of dollars thrown into the effort to get major use and site development permits from the City of Vallejo? Does it sound like the Bay Conservation and Development Commission is likely to issue permits for new bulk and break-bulk cargo port facilities that require fill and dredging and cutting off all public access? The closer you look at this project application the less sense it all makes.
So why build this project at all? The first phase of the marine terminal can be built to serve the Orcem slag cement mill without running afoul of the current water-related industrial use designation in the Bay Plan. The planned additional barge docking facility would not be needed by the cement mill, so that piece of the project had to go. The described port use might be allowed by the BCDC on a temporary basis only, but as the BCDC staff realized when analyzing the throughput numbers, Orcem would only use one quarter of the developed terminal capacity. So what sort of operation might actually use all that newly developed marine terminal and rail capacity?
There is one noteworthy growth sector in the Bay area cargo report that is not considered with general cargo port use: “The volume of petroleum products increased nearly 15 percent or 6,373,655 metric tons in 2014 (49,573,875 total). The volume of petroleum cargo shipped in 2014 was more than twice the total general cargo tonnage discussed above.” Now imagine that all the legal bluster and bombast succeeds, and the project is approved and built. With a shiny new marine terminal sitting in desperate need of something to move at a profit, the pressure on City leaders to engage in those modifications to the allowed materials list would become awfully hard to resist.
So what are we supposed to believe - that the applicants threw millions of dollars at a project based on hopes and dreams without doing any research at all? Is that how you acquire those millions in the first place? Or are they looking at getting a foot in the door with the development of the marine terminal, intending to kick it wide open in the future? The VMT and Orcem applicants already demonstrated their eagerness to buy political influence by contributing tens of thousands in the last election to the Jumpstart PAC candidates - several of whom will now be voting on the VMT/Orcem project applications as Commissioners or Councilmembers.
The attorneys for the applicants can feign indignation over the unconscionable treatment of their clients all they want - it will be met by the very real indignation of the residents of Vallejo who are tired of getting dumped on by county and special interests. Our waterfront is a precious asset that will only increase in value, and we have every right to direct future development in our community for the benefit of our children and their children through our planning process. We will not sacrifice the health of our most vulnerable residents and the character of our neighborhoods on the altar of corporate profit. You can't buy us with a token community benefits bribe or contributions to a fading crony political network or expensive attorneys threatening lawsuits. We are not the ignorant rubes you take us for, and we can smell this thing coming a mile away.
The information is not difficult to find. From the report: "The Seaport Plan provides for annual monitoring of waterborne cargo and marine terminal use to aid in assessing requests for deletion of a shipping terminal or port priority use area from the plan, or for conversions of terminals from bulk to container use. The staff has monitored the regional maritime cargo flow since 1994 by retrieving data from the five Bay Area ports: Benicia, Oakland, Redwood City, Richmond and San Francisco." The report breaks down cargo movement by category, allowing a comparison of the Vallejo Marine Terminal operational plan with the actual demand and existing capacity for the materials they propose to handle.
The VMT description says the terminal would “primarily service dry bulk and break-bulk cargoes." The report no longer even includes break bulk cargo. The lumber and steel listed among the materials VMT says it would handle are now classified as 'neo-bulk.' As defined in the BCDC's report: “Dry bulk cargo is loaded or unloaded via conveyor belts, spouts or scoops, such as sand, gravel and various ores...however, petroleum cargo activity is discussed in its own section at the end of this report.” The dry bulk category would include all the various aggregates and the feed grain listed in the VMT project description.
From the Bay Area Maritime Cargo Report for 2014 - (Petroleum products are not included here)
Significant quantities of fugitive dust from pet coke storage and handling operations present a health risk, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Residents in communities across the country are fighting against open storage near neighborhoods and along waterways of the vast quantities of petroleum coke from domestic refineries waiting for shipment to Asia - coincidentally the same place where the industrial waste blast furnace slag imported for Orcem would originate.