Massive LA Fire Spares Port Operations

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are operating as usual after a major fire in a pallet yard near downtown Los Angeles early Saturday closed off a portion of Interstate 10 to traffic in both directions.

According to the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department, the fire quickly consumed the yard, multiple trailers and a second pallet yard under the 10 Freeway shortly after midnight. The east-to-west highway remains closed in both directions, generally between the 10 Freeway and Alameda Street, which travels south to both ports.

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“Operations at all of our terminals are normal,” Phillip Sanfield, communications director at the Port of Los Angeles, told Sourcing Journal shortly after 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. “We haven’t had reports of delays/added wait times for trucks entering or exiting the Port.”

According to Mario Cordero, CEO at the Port of Long Beach, the neighboring gateway will continue to monitor the situation and its impact on traffic flows across the region.

“Up until now, there has been no direct impact to port operations and we remain in close contact with our industry partners,” said Cordero.

There is no timetable for when the highway will reopen. Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass said in a Monday morning address that “damage will not be fixed in an instant.”

On Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared of state of emergency to help facilitate fire clean-up and repair work and reopen I-10 as quickly as possible.

The fire comes as the twin ports each commit $30 million to fund a state voucher program aimed at helping truck drivers buy zero-emission vehicles.

The combined $60 million will support the purchases of up to 800 new zero-emissions Class 8 drayage trucks operating in the San Pedro Bay Complex. The funds will be available to applicants starting Tuesday.

Port officials have said the program’s funding is a key component to the ports’ joint goal of transitioning to an entirely zero-emissions truck fleet by 2035.

To adhere to these long-term truck emissions rules, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will only allow trucking companies to register zero-emission drayage trucks in the CARB Online System as of Jan. 1, 2024.

Both ports’ funding contributions will be paid for through the trade hubs’ Clean Truck Fund, a program launched in 2022 that collects a $10 fee per twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) on loaded drayage trucks entering or leaving container terminals at both ports.

Voucher enhancements funded by the ports are $100,000 per truck for fleets with 10 or fewer trucks and $75,000 for fleets with more than 10 trucks. That’s in addition to the program’s existing drayage voucher amount of $150,000 per truck and other applicable vouchers, the announcement said, with the highest potential voucher totaling $250,000 per truck.

Funding is administered by Calstart, a nonprofit organization that helps businesses and governments develop clean, efficient transportation solutions, on a first-come, first-served basis.

Not everyone is happy with the program, or the zero-emissions rules it is designed to foster. The California Trucking Association (CTA) filed a lawsuit against CARB in October seeking an injunction on the looming regulations. The suit has been backed by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), with president and CEO Chris Spear calling CARB an “unelected, ill-informed band of extremists who have no clue the impact their timelines and targets will have on our economy.”

The development comes as the biggest California ports have kept busy. Although U.S. ports saw total cargo imports decline 0.2 percent year over year in September amid a weaker peak shipping season, the ports in L.A. and Long Beach reported stronger months than their peers.

The Port of Los Angeles handled 392,608 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of imports in September, a 14 percent improvement compared to the same period last year. At the Port of Long Beach, imports rose 19.3 percent to 408,926 TEUs.

The shifts are likely a short-term rebound as more cargo shifts back to the West Coast in the wake of the newly ratified six-year contract for dockworkers at the gateways.

“With a long-term dockworker contract in place, we’re seeing more cargo shifting back to Los Angeles,” said Port of Los Angeles executive director Gene Seroka in a statement. “The table is set to scale up as demand increases.”

Nine months into 2023, the Port of Los Angeles has processed 6.4 million TEUs, 18.6 percent less than the same period last year. At the same time, the Port of Long Beach has moved 5.8 million TEUs, down 20.7 percent from the 2022 totals.