By Tony Barboza, August 6, 2013
Long Beach has erected a new fortification in the battle against freeway noise and air pollution, and it’s decidedly low-tech.
It’s called “The Great Wall of Mulch.”
City officials gathered Tuesday to top off a 12-foot-high barrier of shredded tree clippings held together by two chain link fences -- a low-cost structure designed to dampen the sound and block the sight of diesel trucks from the heavily traveled Terminal Island Freeway.
“This is not just going to be good for sound pollution, it’s not just good for visual blight, but it’s the first sound wall that I know of that’s also going to improve air quality,” said City Councilman James Johnson as he hopped aboard a cherry picker with Mayor Bob Foster to dump a final, golden bucketful of mulch atop the 3-foot wide wall.
While more traditional concrete sound walls shield many homes from the freeway, there was nothing but a chain link fence between the complex of sports fields at West Long Beach’s Hudson Park and the trucks that serve the nation’s largest port complex.
Johnson said the city came up with the idea of using mulch from the its tree-trimming operations because it was more visually pleasing, graffiti-proof and practically free.
The city plans to plant trees and shrubs along the wall to absorb some air pollutants, such as the fine particulates in diesel exhaust. Dirty air is a long-running health concern in the neighborhood west of the 710 Freeway, which suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation because of its proximity to port operations and has higher rates of asthma and respiratory illness.
For now, city officials are testing the wall on a 600-foot stretch of the freeway that fronts the popular park. The wall could be extended by thousands feet to protect nearby schools and ball fields if it proves effective at blocking the sound, sight and air pollution from thousands of diesel trucks that rumble by each day.
That would be welcome news to Rob Aho, a physical education teacher at Elizabeth Hudson K-8 School who takes his classes to exercise and play soccer at Hudson Park, just south of the school.
“You get the rubber smell if they slam on the brakes too much, you get the exhaust smell and you get the noise, which is insane,” he said. “My concern, of course, is the safety of my kids.”
The Port of Long Beach is funding the $150,000 demonstration project, mostly to pay for the green-colored chain-link fencing that holds in the mulch like a giant cage. The port also will conduct testing to gauge how well the wall blocks sound and how well the mulch holds up after it starts to settle and decompose.
The wall of mulch sits across the freeway from a 153-acre site slated for the construction of the Southern California International Gateway — a $500-million railyard that was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in May. Long Beach city officials, environmentalists and community groups fiercely oppose the project on the grounds that it will send polluted air into low-income neighborhoods, schools and parks.