Facing major infrastructure, environmental and security projects, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners voted preliminary approval for a general tariff rate increase of 5% effective July 1.

The proposal is expected to go back to the Board of Harbor Commissioners in May for final approval. The increases to the Port of Long Beach’s shipping services fees would include hikes in wharfage, dockage, storage and demurrage rates.

The board acted after the California Association of Port Authorities authorized its member ports to increase tariff charges, citing infrastructure, environmental and security needs. During the next five years, the Port of Long Beach plans more than $1 billion in infrastructure improvements including environmental programs, and tens of millions of dollars more for tighter security.

March shipments rise 3.9%

With Chinese New Year slowing imports, the total number of cargo containers shipped through Long Beach in March rose to the equivalent of 466,019 twenty-foot-long container units, a modest 3.9% gain compared with the same month a year ago.

Imports fell 10.8% to 210,093 twenty-foot equivalent units. Chinese New Year was Feb. 9, shutting down much of China for a week, and reducing imports at the end of February and early March. The March import total was the weakest since February 2004, which was slowed by last year’s Jan. 22 Chinese New Year.

Amid a weakening dollar, exports climbed 10.2% to 104,519 teus, the second highest export total ever for Long Beach ’ after a high of 106,556 teus in March 1997. The number of empty containers, nearly all headed overseas, rose 28.2% to 151,407 teus.

EPA recognizes port

Citing the Port of Long Beach’s exceptional work and commitment to protecting the environment, the US Environmental Protection Agency has presented the Port with a 2005 Environmental Achievement Award.

In naming the Port as one of this year’s environmental heroes, the EPA detailed the Port’s efforts to reduce the impacts of port activity on public health and the environment. The EPA recognized the Port’s Healthy Harbor Initiative, the Green Port Policy Resolution, Air Quality Improvement Plan and its joint effort with BP to “cold iron” oil tankers so they can plug into clean shore-side electricity.

The Green Port Policy set guiding principles for the Port’s environmental efforts. Healthy Harbor Long Beach is a multi-program initiative to enhance air, water and soil quality and wildlife habitats. The Port’s Air Quality Improvement Plan has reduced emissions by more than 14 tons of diesel particulate matter and 43 tons of nitrogen oxides annually.

Port is one of key employment sectors

The Port of Long Beach’s economic impact extends throughout the region and across the country, supporting 1.4 million jobs and $47 billion in wages nationally, according to a study by the Port.

As one of the area’s key employment sectors, Port cargo-handling operations accounted for nearly 30,000 jobs ’ roughly one in eight ’ and more than $1.54 billion in wages in Long Beach, according to the Port report based on 2001 port data.

For the five-county Southern California region, Port of Long Beach activities supported nearly 316,000 jobs and $14 billion in wages.

Air quality milestone reached in March

Port officials celebrated a major air quality milestone in March with the completion of a two-year $2 million program that fitted nearly 600 diesel-power utility tractors, forklifts and other terminal yard equipment with pollution control devices.

Port Planning Director Robert Kanter awarded environmental achievement trophies to the participating terminal officials: Ron Neal and Mike Lingerfelt of California United Terminals (Pier E), James Kwon of Total Terminals International (Pier T), John DiBernardo and Bob Kelly of SSA Marine (also Paul Gagnon at Pier C, Pieter Suttorp and Matt Wypynski at Pier A and Sal Ferrigno and Chuanmin Li at PCT at Pier J), Anthony Otto of Long Beach Container Terminal (Pier F) and Ed Mitchell of International Transpor