Completion of Long Beach port’s automated terminal hailed as creating a ‘new bar’ for the

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Long Beach port officials — dwarfed by the behemoth cranes, ships and stacks of shipping containers surrounding them — hailed the final completion of what is billed as the “greenest” shipping terminal in the nation at a news conference on Friday, Aug. 20.

After a decade of construction, the $1.5 billion Long Beach Container Terminal and Middle Harbor project, built and opened in phases, is finally complete after finishing touches were recently made on wharf and backland areas.

“We’re introducing to the world the state-of-the-art terminal, one of the wonders of the maritime industry,” said Long Beach Port Executive Director Mario Cordero.

It was also, he added, “one of the biggest and most challenging maritime projects in our history.”

The celebration, which was set to culminate with a party and fireworks later that evening on the terminal grounds, came on the heels of the port’s completion last fall of the new Long Beach International Gateway Bridge, the $1.5 billion successor to the Gerald Desmond Bridge.

The terminal, at Pier F, combined two aging, 1950s-era shipping terminals into one, creating upgraded wharfs, greater water access, more storage areas, an expanded on-dock rail yard and space to accommodate the world’s newest and largest ships.

“This truly is a modern marvel,” said Long Beach harbor commission Vice President Sharon Weissman.

Receiving special recognition were Tom Baldwin, director of program management, and Monique Lebrun, senior program engineer, who did the lion’s share of engineering work on the project over the past decade.

“These mammoth projects were needed to succeed in the highly competitive world of trade,” Weissman said. “To remain competitive for cargo and jobs, it’s critical that we modernize our infrastructure. The Long Beach Container Terminal is yet another example of how we’re getting bigger, operating smarter and operating greener.”

Not as enthusiastic over automated terminals like LBCT have been the 15,000 longshore workers, including part-time casuals, who man the docks in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest and second busiest in the nation, respectively.

Terminal automation poses big changes — and likely some job losses — in those dockworker ranks.

LBCT, for example, features remotely run electric cranes gliding back and forth and a computer-controlled stacking system. Multiple containers can be handled by the cranes at one time.

And more automation is coming to both ports.

In May, Pier T terminal operators in the Port of Long Beach announced their plans to pursue automation. And in the Port of Los Angeles, both APM Terminals, on Pier 400, and TraPac are at least partially automated.

Anthony Otto, CEO of LBCT, said $9 million was spent before the terminal opened to retrain members of the workforce for newer jobs that would be needed.

“I don’t know if it’s a one-for-one exchange,” Otto said when asked if employment numbers were equal to what they were previously. “Some traditional jobs may not be being done.

“Some additional jobs, more high-skilled jobs, were created,” he said, adding that the union was part of the collaboration in opening the terminal. “We can’t do this job without the (International Longshore and Warehouse Union); we don’t want to. They’re our workforce, they always will be.”

Cordero, for his part, framed the modernization as necessary for the future, of the port and the economy — especially since 51,000 jobs are directly or indirectly connected to the trade hub.

“We have the fourth industrial revolution,” Cordero said, “and the name of the game for us is to make sure we are prepared and that we prepare the workforce to be the workforce of the future.”

Building the terminal involved going on several global excursions for research.

“This model, while certainly new here in North America, some of it was being done in Europe for quite some time,” he said during the news conference. “So our endeavor, when designing this facility by traveling the world a number of times over, was taking the best attributes of a lot of facilities in Europe and Asia with regard to design and technology, both the existing and emerging technologies as this would take years to build and we didn’t want it to be outdated by the time it was finished.”

“New twists” were added to what was already being done in Europe and Asia, Otto said, which have “enhanced it and brought it to a level where I believe it’s the next best design and most technologically advanced facility on the planet at this point.”

The efficiency, he said, can be seen in shorter truck turn times and the largest on-dock rail system in North America. It’s an edge that is important, he said, as import cargo volumes continue to increase, forcing ships to “park” outside the ports — sometimes for days — before being processed.

“We have definitely set the new bar for our industry,” Otto said. “That additional capacity means more cargo, which means more supply chain jobs, which means a strengthening of the regional and national economy.”

Construction on  the Middle Harbor redevelopment project began in 2011.

Both the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are…

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