Port of Oakland sends letter to maritime partners about ballpark plans

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In the wake of their decision to approve the terms for negotiating a new baseball stadium deal with the Oakland A's, the Port of Oakland's leadership sent a letter to its maritime partners this week seeking to assure them that any such deal won't hinder their business.

On Monday, the port's board of commissioners voted to approve a term sheet that gives the A's four years to work though the necessary environmental review process and secure approvals from various public agencies.

During the meeting, many spoke in favor of the plan, including local business owners and building trades union members, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf took to her Twitter account to call the vote a "historic moment."

The plan to turn the under-used 50-acre Howard Terminal site into a new 35,000-seat stadium that incorporates a housing and retail project, however, has been met with deep skepticism by longshoremen and some of the port's maritime tenants, who worry it will disrupt normal port operations.

The port's letter was signed by President of the Board of Port Commissioners Ces Butner and Port of Oakland Executive Director Chris Lytle and was sent out Wednesday.

It seeks to assure its recipients that the port is committed to forging ahead with "maritime growth plans," port officials said Thursday in a news release that quoted parts of the letter.

"We want to make sure that our maritime stakeholders understand our commitment to the maritime industry," port spokesman Mike Zampa said.

"They are critical customers and business partners to the Port of Oakland. They have to know that we depend on them, appreciate them and that we will do everything we can to make sure their businesses continue to flourish."

The letter points to language in the port's agreement with the A's that requires they take measures to "ensure that the project doesn't impact or interfere with the port's use or operations outside of the project.

The port will consult seaport and maritime stakeholders regarding such measures," according to port officials.

While he had yet to see the letter Thursday, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association vice president Mike Jacob said he's happy that the port added a formal process to include maritime stakeholder input during negotiations over the Howard Terminal site.

"There is a substantial amount of work that needs to be done to even consider if this site is viable for this type of project," Jacob said.

The port and the A's need to identify potential risks to port operations and then enforce "mitigations or offsets for the impacts to our business," Jacob said. "That requires a lot of input and a lot of analysis, and they need to make the assurances they're providing to us real," he said.

Port officials said they will work to address potential impacts, and noted that the term sheet already includes provisions that will allow the port to enlarge the Inner Harbor Turning Basin, which is close to Howard Terminal, designate a "buffer zone" between proposed residential development around the stadium and the port, and require that the A's submit a transportation plan for the project.

"The port assures us that we can still grow and thrive without interference from the project. That's a high hurdle," Jacob said. "If the A's can't meet that high hurdle then they're going to have a really hard time moving that project through."

An official with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 called any assurances from the port "lip service."

"This plan with housing on the port is completely incompatible with the industry-related activities," ILWU Local 10 Business Agent Aaron Wright said.

A housing development and baseball stadium next to the port and the Schnitzer Steel recycling yard and dock facility, which would be across an inlet just west of the proposed project, will only put pressure on the current businesses, said Wright, who also had not seen the letter.

"If you can't guarantee a way for the baseball game traffic to get in and out and not hinder the railway and the truckers that come in and out of the port and the workers that come in and out of the port, I can't work with this plan at all," Wright said.

"We've got a drag-out fight ahead of us. We're not done by any means."