Delaware lawmakers pass port bill

Working overtime to ensure its passage before the General Assembly recesses this week for budget talks, Delaware lawmakers okayed a measure giving them final say before the Port of Wilmington enters into any kind of private-public partnership.

The revised Senate bill places any proposal before the Joint Bond Bill Committee for review. Committee members would then make a recommendation and the full legislature would have 30 days to decide deal or no deal.

West Wilmington Democratic Sen. Robert Marshall sponsored the original bill and says the compromise gives lawmakers a voice to protect the state-owned port.

“I believe that the taxpayers and the voters of our state have achieved a victory today for their interests, and one that will allow us to exercise our fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers.”

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In its original form, the bill ruffled some feathers, because it called for the full legislature to review and vote on any deal.

“It’d be like a death by a thousand lashes… To do this in front of the House, in front of the Senate, could be very difficult and then, I think, the bidding party may say, you know, this may not be worth the aggravation,” said port chairman Alan Levin, who described the amended legislation as ‘fair.’

Delaware has run the port through the Diamond State Port Corporation since the mid-1990’s. Built in the 1920’s, the Port of Wilmington is currently in talks with Houston-based Kinder Morgan about a possible 50-year lease agreement. Levin says a partnership is the only way to address mounting maintenance and operating costs.

“It’s something that is going to take a heck of a lot more than the state’s commitment of $10 million a year to do that.”

However, the idea of privatizing or leasing any, or part, of the port raised concerns, particularly within the local longshoremen’s union. That’s why union president Julius Cephas expressed relief that the Senate agreed to the amended bill.

“I’m very pleased with the vote… I believe that we have the Senate looking out for the working class people.”

The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

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