The Port of Long Beach has reached an agreement with the U.S. Navy that port officials say will allow construction to begin next year on a shipping terminal on former Navy property.

The agreement is intended to expedite the transfer of the Long Beach Naval Station and the adjacent Naval Shipyard to the City of Long Beach, which wants to develop the properties for port purposes. It also is an effort to appease preservationist groups seeking to save historic structures at the naval station.

By adding the shipyard to the parcel to be transferred, the port could conceivably build its new terminal without demolishing the historic structures.

Conspicuously missing from the accord is any mention of the China Ocean Shipping Co., or Cosco, the national shipping line of China, which was scheduled to move into a new, $200 million terminal in the summer of 1998.

Those plans unraveled in April, when a Superior Court judge ordered the port to cancel its lease with Cosco and consider alternative uses for the property. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the preservationists, who argued that the port violated state environmental laws by committing itself to the Cosco project before completing an environmental impact report.

Now, the port is seeking permission to build a container terminal on the former Navy property, without having entered into a specific agreement with a particular tenant for the facility.

"We're still assuming the construction of a container terminal," said port spokeswoman Yvonne Avila. "But who will eventually lease that terminal has not been determined."

Under the port's new agreement with the Navy, the 258-acre Long Beach Naval Shipyard, which will close in two months, will be combined with the adjacent 130-acre Naval Station. Those properties would be considered as a single parcel, and would be subjected to a new environmental review to be carried out by the Navy.

The Navy will hold public hearings and hire an outside consultant to study alternative uses for the naval station property paying specific attention a number of historic structures there, including a pool and gymnasium, which were designed by prominent African American architect Paul Revere Williams.

The environmental review is expected to take 10 months, after which the Navy would transfer the properties to Long Beach for redevelopment.

The agreement was praised by Long Beach preservationist groups. "Now we won't have to guess about whether a container terminal is more feasible than other uses," said Peter Devereaux, a spokesman for Long Beach Heritage.

The new plan does leave at least one question unanswered what to do with Cosco, the port's fastest growing tenant, which is expected to outgrow its current facility in about three years.

The rival Port of Los Angeles has offered Cosco a 315-acre site on its Pier 400 landfill project under construction. But Cosco has made no commitment as to where it will go.

"We're going to do everything we can to accommodate them," said Avila. "We're determined to give them a terminal. We just don't know where it will be."

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