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Mitsubishi renews push for port warehouse that could triple diesel trucks in Barrio Logan

Mitsubishi Cement Corp. has revived its nearly decade-long campaign to build a warehouse at the Port of San Diego, which would dramatically increase diesel truck traffic in Barrio Logan. The company now appears poised to bring forward an updated vision, recently peppering the neighborhood with mailers.

The port’s Board of Commissioners put the proposal on hold in late 2020, fearing it would unfairly burden the community, which already suffers from some of the worst asthma- and cancer-causing air pollution in the state.

Rather, the seven-member board directed the company and agency staff to draft strict requirements for incorporating electric or other zero-emission trucks into the proposal.

Port officials suggested this week that such a blueprint is near completion but would not provide specifics.

“Mitsubishi and the port staff are in discussions to phase in the use of zero-emission trucks and other emissions-reduction strategies to reduce air quality and greenhouse gas emission impacts,” the agency said in a email Tuesday.

A large semi truck hauling goods, drives along Harbor Drive and Cesar E. Chavez Parkway in Barrio Logan in 2020.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Community advocates and at least one port commissioner expressed fears that Mitsubishi might try to duck the responsibility.

The Union-Tribune reached out to several commissioners for comment, including Chair Dan Malcolm and Vice Chair Rafael Castellanos. Agency staff responded saying that its governing board would not be commenting on the issue at this time.

Commissioner Mike Zucchet, who also works as the general manager of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association, spoke out despite the agency’s response. He said he’s frustrated that more progress hasn’t been made.

“After two years there doesn’t seem there’s a specific, committed plan to reduce diesel truck trips through portside neighborhoods, and that was the specific direction,” he said. “I feel like there’s just alternative worlds going on here, and maybe there’s about to be a clash.”

Officials with the cement business said a commitment to electrification is forthcoming. They’re hoping the commission will reconsider the warehouse proposal at its Nov. 8 public hearing.

“Our project addresses diesel truck emissions … with the important value of providing jobs and local access to cement, a fundamental building commodity that currently is primarily accessed by being trucked in from the high desert or the Port of Long Beach,” Mitsubishi said in an email statement Wednesday.

While Mitsubishi and the port have yet to release any new details on their strategy for curbing truck pollution, the Nevada-based corporation has in recent weeks mailed fliers to Barrio Logan residents, saying the project would create jobs and “reduce truck travel across the region.”

The glossy cards read: “MCC has a shared vision with the community and the Port of San Diego to reduce harmful air emissions in Barrio Logan.” They also said an information booth would be available at a Halloween gathering at Chicano Park on Saturday, Oct. 29.

The company — part of the corporate family that owns Mitsubishi Motors — has long sought to build a warehouse and hauling facility at the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, which would be serviced by up to 296 new diesel truck trips a day. The project, which would distribute up to 600,000 metric tons of cement a year, could triple the terminal’s current truck traffic.

Barrio Logan has been plagued for decades by large, rumbling freight trucks coming and going from the port. Massive cargo ships can also belch pollution while they unload containers. Residents lament the sticky black grime that covers windows and kitchen tables from myriad sources.

Pollution from diesel engines, such as those used in boats, cranes and trucks, contributes to fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, which when inhaled exacerbates conditions such as asthma and heart disease. The tiny particles lodge deep in a person’s lungs, even their bloodstream.

In response to neighborhood concerns, the San Diego City Council several years ago banned heavy duty trucks on certain residential streets in the portside community. However, enforcement has been spotty at best.

A large truck turns on to Newton street in the Barrio Logan on Wednesday, August 27 , 2019.

A large truck turns on to Newton street in the Barrio Logan on Wednesday, August 27 , 2019, despite the fact that it is posted for no vehicles over 5 tons allowed.

(John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A Union-Tribune analysis of data from the San Diego Air Pollution Control District last year found that heavy duty trucks accounted for about 17 percent of diesel pollution in Barrio Logan. More than 75 percent of such emissions came from harbor craft and oceangoing vessels as well as cargo-handling and construction equipment. Passenger vehicles, buses and trains contributed just 4 percent.

Local nonprofit Environmental Health Coalition has fought Mitsubishi’s warehouse project, demanding it include an aggressive timeline for adopting electric trucks. Advocates have pointed out that last year the port adopted a target for its terminals to be serviced by 100 percent zero-emission cargo trucks by 2030.

“This proposal would completely eliminate the possibility of achieving that goal and would increase childhood asthma, already more than three times greater than the county average,” said Diane Takvorian, the coalition’s executive director.

The port’s own previous environmental analysis of the project found that it would “result in direct significant environmental effects with respect to air quality and health risk, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous materials, noise and vibration, and transportation, circulation, and parking.”

However, the agencies said that the economic benefits outweigh those negative impacts, including the creation of 52 full-time jobs.

The state has increasingly ramped up efforts to electrify freight trucks and passenger vehicles in recent years. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order last year calling for all new cars sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035.

More than half of all heavy duty trucks sold in California must also be zero-emission vehicles by 2035, according to a landmark rule approved by state air regulators in 2020.

Volvo has boasted that it will only sell “fossil free” trucks by 2040, with Daimler Truck setting a similar goal. However, behind-the-scenes industry lobbyists have reportedly been working to slow down federal and state regulations targeting such vehicle emissions.

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