Doing so “regretfully,” Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini on January 14 denied a preliminary injunction requested by The Maritime Stakeholders Group (MSG) to block a land swap in which the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) would convey maritime land known as the Pier 98 Annex to the SYSCO Corporation, a domestic food distribution company. The stakeholders argued the PRPA should be enjoined from turning over any of the Port of Philadelphia’s prime maritime property for non-maritime use.
The Maritime Stakeholders Group includes varied interests within the ocean shipping community, including the International Longshoremen’s Association District Council of Philadelphia and Wilmington, the Philadelphia Marine Trade Association (PMTA) and the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay.
“Obviously, we are disappointed with the decision,” said Uwe Schulz, PMTA President. “Yet, we are extremely encouraged by many of the points included in Judge Pellegrini’s 23-page opinion that gives our cause significant credibility.” Schulz added that the members of the Maritime Stakeholders Group were continuing to study the Judge’s decision before making any final decision with respect to this issue.
Schulz pointed to several comments by Judge Pellegrini, such as: “I agree with the Association (MSG) that the sale of Pier 98 Annex to SYSCO is not for any port-related activity. It is a regional food distribution warehouse, which will not use the Port in any significant way. I also agree with the Association that the sale of the Pier 98 Annex would make it difficult to load large military cargo because it is the only loading area in the port that can load’that cargo,” he added.
Jim Paylor, the region’s ranking ILA representative and member of the MSG, remarked that Judge Pellegrini also included in his opinion the assertion as made by Edward Zimny of Paul F. Richardson Associates, Inc., the consultancy hired by the stakeholders as port planning experts, that the PRPA’s land swap with SYSCO may impact future port development “because it [Pier 98 Annex] would no longer be available to serve as a gateway to both Northport and Southport.” The Judge stated, “I agree with Expert Zimny’s conclusions that the land swap may frustrate the future development of the Port and the decision to sell Pier 98 Annex may affect its current operations.”
“Legislative findings,” Judge Pellegrini said, “are not substantive provisions authorizing or preventing anything, but only act as guides on how substantive provisions are interpreted.” Pennsylvania State Representative William Keller (D), a former longshoreman himself, said, “We will work to amend any legislative issues and loopholes which now exist that in any way jeopardize the economic development of our state or the potential competitive position of our port.”
Dennis Rochford, Maritime Exchange president and a leading advocate for port development in the region stated, “While we have a decision on the preliminary injunction, we hope that all interested parties now take a broader view and acknowledge the commentary of the Judge, the sentiments of the shipping public, and what is actually at stake with this issue - - doing what is right for the economy, the people of the region, and the overall competitive positioning of our port.”
Development of significant maritime parcels will allow this region to fulfill its vision of 175,000+ jobs and realize all associated economic benefits. This port location in Philadelphia is the only parcel available in North America that has three Class 1 railroads contiguous to waterfront property and the ability to develop world-class marine terminals.