Port Whine

We found this in one of Henry Holcomb’s articles posted on “philly.com”.

“2002: Philadelphia Regional Produce market begins discussions with the city agency that is its landlord about the need for a facility to comply with post-9/11 security and food-handling regulations.

“May 2004: Frustrated members of the association that runs the market vote to move to Camden unless it gets an agreement with Philadelphia and state officials by June 15.

“June 2004: Market association agrees to stay in Philadelphia, accepting a promise from Gov. Rendell and State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) of a $ 150 million new terminal, to be built on the Pier 98 annex at Columbus Boulevard and Oregon Avenue.

“July 2005: State officials shift planning for a new produce market to a site at the east end of the former Philadelphia Navy Base, which had been renamed the Navy Yard.

“September 2005: With port officials looking on, Rendell and Fumo announce that the state will build a new home for the produce market at the Navy Yard site.

“February 2007: Citing an anticipated rise in the number of cargo containers arriving in the United States, port officials declare that the site selected for the produce market would block lucrative growth of the port.”

The rationale for that February 2007 declaration by port officials is based on the wording of an entirely speculative analysis that has convinced maritime business operators that a long-awaited revival of the port is about to happen, and that it offers a real chance of adding up to175,000 well-paying jobs to the region over the next decade.

Maritime business operators in turn have convinced Governor Rendell that this ‘real chance’ of adding those 175,000 jobs ‘over the next decade’ is worth gambling billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars, and risking his own political future as well. But first, the port businesses are insisting, the 35 companies that make up the busy Philadelphia Regional Produce Market “must bring their plans for a new terminal to a screeching halt” because private investors, according to the ‘maritime consultants’, are willing to build new port facilities if the government can be persuaded to move the produce market elsewhere.

The Governor’s September 2005 announcement ‘worried’ these business operators because traffic snarls could be caused by the 1,500 to 2,000 big trucks serving the produce terminals daily. These same operators, however, show no discomfort about the 8,000 containers per day that will need to be transported by trailer trucks … or what’s worse … by freight trains, to and from area terminals when, and if, the port becomes “the fastest-growing and economically charged” on the East Coast.

On the other hand, Henry Holcomb reported, this opposition from port interests has caused “heartburn” at the produce terminal. The 35 small businesses that rent space from the city in the dilapidated terminal, built in 1959, have been working since 2002 to get a new terminal. There are approximately 1,500 employed at the produce market, and Teamsters comprise about 80 percent of that number. Leading chefs and produce merchants have said that the market is important to the flavor and economic success of the region’s culinary artistry, but a new facility is needed, with railroad access, in order to deal with rising fuel costs and to meet tightening federal regulation of food shipments.

In spite of the June 2004 promise from Governor Rendell and Senator Fumo, the Governor’s announcement last week to dredge the 100-mile long Delaware River effectively cancelled the plans to move the Produce Market to the Navy Yard because, the Governor stated, the move would cost too much and would block expansion of seaport operations. At an earlier private meeting with produce officials on May 4th, Fumo’s staff had revealed that the project cost estimates were over budget, but no indication was given at that time that the Governor and Senator would back down.

The announcement to renege came as a complete surprise to officials of the Produce Market. “I feel like I’ve been hit with a sledgehammer,” said James P. Storey, Jr., president of the association that runs Produce Market’s terminal in South Philadelphia. He and George Manos, the association’s secretary-treasurer and largest shareholder, said the future of the Produce Market was being threatened.

After last week’s announcement to the cheering and waving longshoremen, however, the Governor’s follow up promise to help the Produce Market get the facility it needs, one way or another, didn’t impress many. Understandably, this latest pledge met with opposition from Market officials.

“We feel like we’re being pushed around terribly. We’ve wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars studying several sites they’ve proposed,” Storey said.

Proponents have stated publicly and repeatedly that the deepening of the channel would clear the way for several international shipping companies and terminal operators to make millions of dollars of investments. One of the staunchest supporters of dredging, however, unwittingly cast doubt upon such unbridled optimism. After first acknowledging “the likelihood that future ships will not fit under the Walt Whitman Bridge,” State Rep. William F. Keller (D., Phila.) followed up by releasing a letter from SSA Marine Inc., of Seattle, the nation’s largest maritime terminal operator, which said that the company “could make no firm commitment without more study”.

What SSA Marine is aware of no doubt, is that the dredging of a 100-mile channel could take as long as 15 years… even with U.S. Office of Management and Budget approval … and along with this doubtful contingency there is no chance that giant vessels would consider steaming the 100-mile Delaware River just to service another congested and illogically positioned port facility.

[So, why bother? In much less time container ships can get to the congested NY/NJ complex without the hassle of a 100-mile channel trip.]