Philadelphia area businesses promoting new terminal
A broad coalition of port businesses, labor leaders and legislators seeking to make Philadelphia a major container port say plans to locate a food distribution center in its midst could spoil a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to boost the port’s container capacity to bring millions of containers and bring more than 100,000 jobs to the region.
Wednesday they unveiled a study by Paul E. Richardson Associates of the positive impact of Southport, the planned container terminal, which would stretch southward from the current Packer Marine Terminal, around a bend in the Delaware River onto land that was part of the Philadelphia Naval Yard.
The study found that the new terminal would increase container capacity from 540,000 TEUs to 3.5 million TEUs. That could boost current port related employment from 8,109 direct and 34,664 indirect jobs to more than 175,000, said Edward Zimny, of Richardson Associates.
The port has a shot at such growth because of the boom in trade from Asia, and in particular, growth from the Indian subcontinent, which promises to make trans-Suez Canal routings of containerships to the East Coast highly attractive.
To realize its potential as a container port, the Delaware River also needs to be dredged to 45 feet.
“Politicians should be running to get to the front of this parade,” said State Rep. William Keller, a former longshoreman.
Instead, they say politicians like Gov. Ed Rendell and State Sen. Vincent Fumo have been slow to react to their calls to locate the terminal somewhere else.
Getting the food terminal to agree, in 2004, to remain in Philadelphia was the result of a hard-fought economic development battle for state and city. New Jersey had been trying to lure the produce market to the other side of the river.
But at Wednesday’s press conference, Uwe Schulz, president of the Ports of the Delaware River Marine Trade Association, the group that negotiates local contract issues with members of the International Longshoreman’s Association, said the planned location for the produce market would create a host of problems, including:
* It would be located in the midst of an intermodal rail yard.
* An overhead roadway leading to it would block the movement of equipment such as straddle carriers.
* It would bring thousands of trucks moving domestic cargo into the midst of a marine terminal.
There are security concerns as well. The facility would have to be fenced off from the surrounding marine terminal because truck drivers would not have Transportation Worker Identification Cards, and even restaurant chefs and members of the general public are allowed to shop at the wholesale produce markets.
The Philadelphia region handles much of the Chilean fruit imported into the United States, but officials say this accounts for far less than even 1 percent of the produce at the terminal.
“This is really about the survival of the port,” said Boise Butler, president of ILA Local 1291.
He said he supports efforts to find a new home for the food market, as long as it is “built off the river.”
Speakers also say that interest by investors in the terminal business — evidenced by terminal buyouts by investment banks, insurance companies, and pension funds in recent months — indicate that the terminal could be developed with private capital.
They presented letters from several companies, including APM Terminals, SSA Marine, representatives of the Hanjin-'K' Line-Yang Ming alliance, expressing interest in the project. The Holt Group, operator of Packer Marine Terminal is also interested in the project, they said.