Friday, February 14, 2014

Port Postpones A’s Ballpark Plan In Order to Examine Proposal for Shipping Coal Through Jack London Square

By Steven Tavares
Fri, Feb 14, 2014 at 11:51 AM

The Oakland Port Commission decided to postpone a vote on whether to move forward with a new ballpark at Howard Terminal for the Oakland A’s in order to give more time to examine a plan by a Kentucky company to ship coal through Jack London Square. The commission made the decision after representatives from the Louisville-based firm Bowie Resources Partners, LLC contended that port staffers had not sufficiently considered their proposal for Howard Terminal.

The ballpark proposal for Howard Terminal
  • The ballpark proposal for Howard Terminal
Under state law, the port cannot pursue the ballpark plan until the commission officially determines that the 50-acre waterfront site is no longer suitable for maritime shipping uses. Port staffers have concluded that the site should be phased out from seaport operations because it’s on a section of the Oakland Estuary that is too shallow for the new wave of giant ships that now dominate the shipping industry.

Port commissioners decided to wait two more weeks before making a decision on the coal-shipping proposal from Bowie Resources Partners, LLC so that agency staffers could thoroughly consider recent information that the company had supplied to the port. In addition, representatives from Bowie said they were unclear about specific information requested by the port.

While the board may have erred on the side of caution in the near-term, Port Commissioner Michael Colbruno said Bowie had been vetted thoroughly in the staff report and in a previous subcommittee on the issue. "They had their chance," he said. Colbruno, who was appointed to the port commission by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and is a co-chair of her reelection campaign, was the lone opposition to the motion to table the item to February 27. He registered his vote during the roll call as "emphatically no," and urged his fellow commissioners to reject all applications for maritime use at Howard Terminal. Once the commission does so, then the port can begin to fully examine the proposal to build a ballpark at the site.

Later, in an interview, Colbruno said staff had performed due diligence of Bowie’s proposal and the other two plans, and predicted that the board will ultimately move to reject the three proposals in two weeks. "We heard nothing new today, nothing groundbreaking to say that any of those proposals should have moved forward," he said.

The motion to postpone the final determination includes direction for staffers to determine if the new information from Bowie will change their previous recommendation to reject all three proposals for Howard Terminal. However, during testimony, a member of the port staff repeatedly said it would not.

"There seems to be some differentiation between what staff said they communicated and what [Bowie] said. I never want someone to be thrown out on a technicality," said Port Commissioner Bryan Parker of Bowie's bid. Parker, another Quan appointee, is now challenging her for mayor. His sentiment over giving Bowie more time was shared by other commissioners.

In addition to Bowie's proposal, the port received interest from Schnitzer Steel Industries and a joint bid by California Capital Group, Kinder Morgan, and MetroPorts. A staff report faulted Schnitzer's bid for requesting use of just three acres of the property and found the group led by California Capital Group, which is headed by Oakland developer Phil Tagami, failed to sufficiently detail its plan.

Bowie's bid may be far more problematic because of its desire to move coal through Howard Terminal. "Controversy and litigation over coal and coal export facilities and the impacts along the entire supply chain has been significant in recent years throughout the U.S., including on the West Coast," said the port staffers’ report. Port Commissioner Victor Uno said Bowie's bid will be unpopular with labor groups at the port, particularly longshore workers concerned with the environmental impact of coal passing through West Oakland.

Last December, a group of local businessmen led by Clorox CEO Don Knauss announced interest in building a 38,000-seat waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal. And last month, the group formally asked the port to engage in negotiations over the project. However, even if the Port of Oakland determines no maritime uses are suitable for the location, certain environmental hurdles exist before the dream of a waterfront ballpark in Oakland can move forward.

Parker said the ballpark supporter's case may have improved Thursday evening even though a clear decision was not made by the commission. "If you've looked at all of the maritime uses and you find none are suitable, then you ask what is in the best interest of the people?" said Parker. While noting the potential difficulties the project may face in adhering to the state Tidelands Trust Act, Parker lauded the plan for its possibilities. "If the ballpark could be put there in a compliant way," Parker said, "it would be a transformational thing for Oakland, the waterfront, and Jack London Square."

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