Stockton port commission officials mull bid to deepen channel
- View SourceRecordnet.comPort officials mull bid to deepen channelShips at the Port of Stockton
STOCKTON - Port officials will consider today backing a bid for $35 million in state transportation funds, money that could help deepen the shipping channel from San Francisco Bay to Stockton.
A deeper channel would allow larger ships to reach Stockton, potentially reducing traffic congestion and air pollution from trucks that might otherwise be used to carry their cargoes inland, officials said.
One environmentalist countered that such claims need a closer look, especially considering the recent oil spill from a Bay shipping accident and the risks that additional and larger ship traffic might pose.
Lowering the minimum depth of the Stockton Deep Water Channel is currently under study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has yet to determine the feasibility and impact of such a project, said Richard Aschieris, Stockton port director.
"Ultimately when the study's done ... and if it finds there are good reasons to lower the ship channel and that it would not harm the environment, the federal government would pay for 75 percent of the project," he said Friday.
"We will be applying to the state for the remaining local share for the project."
That request for a share of the Proposition 1B bond act funds, approved by voters in November 2006, requires the endorsement of the Stockton Port Commission, which will consider the issue in its meeting today.
There are good reasons to deepen the channel with part of the $19.9 billion bond fund, earmarked for improvements in highway safety, traffic reduction, air quality and port security, Aschieris said.
By accommodating more and larger ships, he said, "It will ultimately take trucks off the 580 out to the Central Valley."
Today, with the channel's minimum depth at 35 feet, the largest ships it can handle can carry the equivalent of 1,200 truckloads of cargo, Aschieris said. Port officials estimate if that were lowered to 40 feet, vessels capable of carrying 2,100 truckloads of cargo could ply the channel.
That's nearly 1,000 more trucks removed from area highways, he said.
Boosting the size and volume of ship traffic carries its own risks, countered Sejal Choksi, director of programs at San Francisco Baykeeper.
"The increase of shipping traffic is certainly something we'd want to think about carefully before we prioritize that over truck traffic," she said Friday.
"Given our Bay oil spill, we should be really careful about how we're increasing ship traffic in our Bay and allowing bigger ships to go through."
Choksi referred to the spill of 58,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay on Nov. 7 after a container ship sideswiped the Bay Bridge.
Another concern is that ocean-going vessels could be worse pollution sources than the trucks they replace, which are under tight California smog standards.
"Obviously, it depends on the kind of fuel cargo ships are using," she said. "And if that fuel is really polluting, it might be a wash."
Port commissioners will also consider a separate bid for Prop. 1B money to make security improvements, Aschieris said.
No dollar-estimates have yet been drawn up, but would certainly be less that $35 million for deepening the ship channel. Aschieris said he hopes to fund a secure cargo-inspection facility, obtain emergency back-up generators and draft a five-year security assessment and investment plan.