“Miniports = Jobs”

Judge Daniel Pellagrini of Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court made it official last week. Judge Pellagrini authorized the sale of waterfront property to Sysco Corp., the global food-service company, by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.

Sysco had outgrown its 30-acre site at Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia and had previously been granted permission to build a 50-acre produce terminal at Pier 98 annex. A temporary injunction had been sought by maritime industry business and labor interests, who contended that the site should be reserved for port-related activities. The port authority’s chief counsel, Gregory V. Iannarelli, said the opinion received from Judge Pellagrini means, “there is nothing stopping us from going forward with the sale.”

Judge Pellagrini did his homework. The maritime and labor interests didn’t. “Maritime consultants” and political personages had misled job-hungry workers into thinking that Pier 98 should be part of a projected 3,500,000 TEU container terminal in busy Philadelphia so that giant container ships could be serviced and “100,000 jobs” would be created. “Dredging = Jobs” was the tricky slogan.

There’s more to it than that, of course, but Judge Pellagrini knew from the start that dredging was out of the question. In spite of what the consultants were promoting, he knew that:
• an APL official had publicly stated that terminals servicing megaships need to be located near shipping lanes, not 100 miles from the sea, as is the case with terminals in Philadelphia;
• dredging an 800′-wide channel would not allow for safe passing or for emergency mid-channel turnarounds;
• five feet of sludge dredged from a channel more than 100 miles in length, and having a more reasonable width of 1,320 feet, would require a disposal area of about 85,000 acres. This volume of sludge and slime would be enough to cover an area roughly equal in size to the 19,000 acre Island of Manhattan to a depth of approximately four-and-a-half feet;
• the cost to transport this volume of spoil to widely scattered Pennsylvania communities would exceed the cost of dredging operations.

Judge Pellagrini also knew that dredging projects aren’t cut and dried procedures. Such operations consume lengthy and indeterminate amounts of time, and invariably end up costing far more than submitted estimates, as Australian officials have just realized.

Senior transport experts and economists have reversed their thinking about dredging the Port of Melbourne. In an earlier assessment they were told that channel deepening was a far cheaper alternative than developing two smaller ports. Since the original estimate of $ 590 million, however, the cost has risen sharply, to approximately $ 1 billion, making the development of alternate ports a more attractive option. They also knew that costs would keep rising during the lengthy and indeterminate time period required to complete the project. A no-brainer. Therefore, no dredging.

[Smaller ports instead of a gouged out and costly megaport? Isn’t that what we’ve been advising?]