Hanjin Shipping Containers Stranded Again? California Officials Wary of Plan

SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg News

Some of the 15,000 steel shipping containers at the ports of Long Beach, and Los Angeles abandoned in the wake of the financial collapse of Korea-based Hanjin Shipping Co. may be headed to Ontario, California, for storage — but not without opposition from city leaders.

On Sept. 30, a logistics company reported that many of the containers could be on their way to an undisclosed 100-acre yard in Ontario.

That wasn’t welcome news in Ontario.

Two City Council members, Jim Bowman and Debra Porada, as well as Mayor Paul Leon, voiced opposition to the idea at their meeting Oct. 4.

RELATED: Houston port credited for being 'creative' to move Hanjin cargo

“Ontario will never become a dumping ground for another city or another nation. In this case, it was Korea for a shipping line,” Bowman said. “This is not a dumping ground.”

First, the containers were stranded at sea until a U.S. bankruptcy judge last month issued an order allowing the financially ailing Hanjin provisional protection from creditors so that vessels could dock and unload products, and retailers could begin selling those products in stores.

The now-empty containers are once again stranded, this time on land, as no one was quite sure what to do with them.

Enter the Ontario plan. A logistics company, Total Transportation Services Inc., said Sept. 30 the trucking company had a “conceptual” plan to move containers to a 100-acre facility in Ontario where they could be stored.

Officials believe the only conceivable place for the 100-acre piece of land mentioned would be in the former agricultural preserve area in southern Ontario near a new housing development. Officials say residents there have already complained about truck traffic.

“We’re trying to build houses down there, and we’re trying to make it palatable for people moving in to move there, and for them to see all the truck traffic down there sure isn’t selling houses,” Porada said in an interview Oct. 5.

Ontario City Manger Al Boling said the city’s approved zoning prohibits the storage of metal shipping containers in the former agricultural preserve where thousands of homes are planned and neighborhoods have already sprung up.

“The city’s general plan sets forth the long-term vision for allowable uses in the area, and that does not include commercial container storage,” Boling said in a statement.

The city, Boling said, “made a commitment to the property owners who once operated dairies in Ontario Ranch, and until such time as development occurs consistent with the general plan’s vision, agricultural and ag-related uses are permissible. Storage of shipping containers is not ag- or ag-related.”

Placement of the containers within city limits could be permissible at smaller sites elsewhere for a smaller number of shipping containers if city officials approve a permit. But, “I am not aware of any applications having been submitted to the city,” Boling said.

In an interview Oct. 5, Alex Chernin, spokesman for Total Transportation, said the details are still under discussion.

“It’s our understanding from our Realtor that the land is already zoned for [storage of shipping containers],” Chernin said. “But we are verifying that, and we’ll obviously work with the city if there are concerns.”

On Oct. 4, Mike Radak, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Hanjin Shipping America confirmed the Ontario solution but said an address would be finalized Oct. 5. He was hoping containers would be in transit by Oct. 5. However, as of early the morning of Oct. 5, Radak said the address was still being finalized. He could not be immediately reached later in the day.

Among those impacted are warehousing companies, such as XPO Logistics, which has two of Hanjin’s stranded containers, and is seeking to get them moved.

Dan Monnier, corporate import and compliance manager for XPO, said Hanjin contacted him Oct. 4 afternoon and said a yard in Fontana, California, was available but withdrew that claim later in the day.

Zai AbuBakar, planning manager for the city of Fontana, said brokers on behalf of Hanjin had informed her of their desire to also use land in Fontana, but she informed them that the city prohibits any storage of metal shipping containers.

If containers do show up in town, AbuBakar said, “we’ll inform them the use is not permitted, and we’ll give them a certain amount of days to get rid of them.”

Meanwhile, a Redlands-based real estate company, The Tahiti Group, has offered to take on containers — just not in the Inland Empire. The company, according to principal Jack Vander Woude, has 120 acres of land near the Mojave Airport that he said was approved by Kern County for container storage.

However, Vander Woude said Hanjin hasn’t contacted him.

“We offered our property for Hanjin’s containers,” Vander Woude said. “We have simply offered a place to store them temporarily if they wish. We’ll rent them our land on a temporary basis. The point of this is that our land is served by rail-road and freeway.”