The doomsayers contend a new superport Mexico plans to build on the coast of Baja California about 180 miles south of San Diego means the end of commercial success for California and the elimination of thousands of jobs.”Watch it and weep,” said Steve Frank, political consultant and former head of the conservative California Republican Assembly, who notes the enterprise depends on Mexican trucks having access to America under the North American Free Trade Agreement.Never mind both the fact that President Obama has already cut back severely the number of Mexican trucks allowed to work in this country and the fact that the recession is delaying work on the port itself.The real questions are whether this port, when it’s eventually built, has to be a disaster for California? Might it actually improve life in this state?Here are a few maritime statistics to consider: About 30 million shipping containers crossed the Pacific Ocean last year, headed for West Coast ports. More than half (15.7 million) were unloaded at the congested, neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Another 8 million or so landed in other California ports, from San Diego and Port Hueneme to Oakland and Eureka.Hauling off those containers created truck traffic which in 2007 contributed almost 20 percent of the human-spawned smog in the Los Angeles Basin, not to mention innumerable traffic jams. Under the state’s greenhouse gas law, AB32, a lot of that pollution will have to be cut in the next 10-12 years. The deadline falls not far from the putative opening date for the Mexican port.Meanwhile both the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports now spawn about as much rail and road traffic as likely will ever be practical, as both are built out to near capacity. The same for Oakland. So maybe the time is right for another port that could relieve some of the pressure. For even though cross-Pacific trade is down a bit this year, every forecast says the 24 million containers now reaching here from overseas will increase by at least 50 percent over the next 10 years.This suggests California just might need the port Mexico proposes to build at Punta Colonet, now a bucolic village of 2,500. That port, if completed as scheduled in about 2018, would handle no more than 2 million containers in its first phase and might eventually be expanded to deal with as many as 10 million, depending on how many ships choose to unload there. Neither figure poses a serious threat to California trade.But the new harbor could take the pressure for expansion off California ports, where it would still be more economical for America-bound cargoes to unload. Yes, there will be some added costs at this state’s ports as they are compelled to clean up both ship-caused pollution and truck exhausts.But any cargo unloaded at Punta Colonet – and even Mexican President Felipe Calderon says it would aim mostly to serve American needs – would have to be trucked north or taken north on rail cars, then link with American highways and railroads. Costs for that would likely far exceed any pollution cleanup expenses imposed on the existing harbors at Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Oakland.So once ship emissions have been cleaned, there will be no incentive other than practical need for ships to dock in Mexico, when transport of their containers to other points is much more convenient, cheaper and faster from the California ports.This means the reality here is very different from the doomsday claims often made about the Mexican port. Once built, it would be more likely to handle overflow from the already super-crowded Los Angeles-Long Beach complex than to replace it. It would probably be no more a threat to the existing big seaports than Port Hueneme, the Ventura County port that now takes pressure off its bigger brethren by receiving and exporting cars, strawberries, pineapples, and a few other commodities. It is also the key port supporting California’s existing offshore oil drilling platforms.Far from a threat, the Mexican port would help ease traffic, cut smog, and reduce illegal immigration by providing steady jobs within Mexico. Traffic at California ports has not been cut by the advent of a huge new harbor at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Why should it suffer from a new colleague in Mexico?Interestingly, the same people who say they fear the planned Mexican port said nothing against Prince Rupert. Might that be because one would be run by Hispanics, while Anglos are in charge of the other?
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