It was dreams and big ideas that founded the Port of Los Angeles in 1907 – a dream of establishing a safe and industrious harbor as home to one of the largest commercial seaports in the world.

It was the dream of Bethlehem Steel in the early 1920s to transform Berth 240, the historic Southwest Marine Shipyard, into a shipbuilding facility, one that produced our nation’s finest warships and employed more than 6,000 residents, becoming a source of national pride.

An op-ed in the June 7 issue of the Business Journal by Port Executive Director Geraldine Knatz (“Navigating Deals at Port of L.A.”) would suggest the port in this instance is disconnected from the very dreams and ideas that built the port in the first place. The port should not forget that private-public partnerships can turn dreams and big ideas into reality, revitalizing one of the busiest ports in the world.

Creating a strong private-public partnership was one of the fundamentals behind Gambol Industries’ plan to revive the Southwest Marine site. But the port’s plan: turn the Southwest Marine slips into a toxic waste dump and eliminate future opportunities at the site. (The port wants to fill the slips with sludge from a channel-deepening project elsewhere in the port.) The Gambol plan looks at the slips differently: We want to restore and return Southwest Marine to its best and historic use – a world-class shipbuilding and repair center.

Significant jobs

The Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. estimates our shipyard plan has the potential to create a significant number of direct and indirect jobs, generate significant tax revenue for the city of Los Angeles, boost the port’s overall economy, and bring back the diversified skilled trade jobs that the former shipyard used to provide.

The port and Gambol signed a Memorandum of Understanding in June 2009 calling for the port to work in good faith “to explore design configuration ideas that would preserve the irreplaceable dry dock slips at Southwest Marine.” Gambol has held up its end of the bargain. We have repeatedly and expeditiously revised our engineering and design plans as the port’s own engineering and schedule needs for its channel-deepening project have changed. In her op-ed, Knatz stated the port is “appropriately scrutinizing designs and ideas” for our shipyard plan. We support and applaud the port’s scrutiny of our plan and anticipate that a deal will be made, absolutely without delaying the channel-deepening schedule.

Knatz also raises concerns for an “existing vessel repair facility at the port that, by all appearances, Gambol will directly compete against.” This statement raises serious questions. This boatyard she refers to has limited capabilities and can only haul vessels up to 250 feet long with a 60-foot beam, or width. She fails to mention that our proposed shipyard will service oceangoing vessels up to 720 feet long with a 115-foot beam – a service that fleets cannot receive in the Port of Los Angeles or the Port of Long Beach today. Why would she want to keep this market out of the Port of Los Angeles? When did competition become a bad thing?

Competition made America the world’s greatest global economic powerhouse in human history and helped build the port into the global player it is today.

Competition benefits everyone and fosters technological advancement as well. In fact, since 1992, Gambol has been competing with this other boatyard that has been in existence for 100 years. It has survived, in spite of five other shipyards competing with them over the years. We have both survived and will continue to do so under the Gambol plan.

‘Game changing’

I am not sure when Knatz crafted her op-ed piece, and maybe she was not aware of that recently a major “potentially game changing” announcement made by the Port of Long Beach will likely will have a significant impact on the Los Angeles channel deepening project and Gambol’s proposed shipyard. The Port of Long Beach announced that it requires, and will accept, up to 2.5 million cubic yards of harbor dredge material needed for the Long Beach Middle Harbor expansion.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Port of Los Angeles to save an estimated $30 million to $40 million by not having to build a Contaminated Disposal Facility at the Southwest Marine site where dredge materials are intended to be placed. All that is required is that the Port of Los Angeles divert the dredge material to the Port of Long Beach Middle Harbor Site. We are working closely with the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach to make sure that this opportunity is not lost.

At a time when the port and the city are spending lots of money to create jobs, Gambol’s plan, a $50 million private investment, unlike other private-public partnerships, will not cost a dime of taxpayers’ money.

Robert Stein is president of Gambol Industries in Long Beach.

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