Breaking: Amendment to Southport bill passes

As expected, the Pennsylvania Senate today unanimously passed House Bill 666, paving the way for the development of the Southport Marine Terminal, to be situated on more than 200 acres between the Navy Yard the the Packer Marine Terminal.

The bill now goes back to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for another vote in the wake of an amendment made this week by State Sen. Larry Farnese (story below), and then to Gov. Ed Rendell for his signature.

Pennsylvania State Sen. Larry Farnese, of Philadelphia’s 1st Senatorial District, has introduced an amendment to legislation aimed at approving the transfer of property in South Philadelphia for the new Southport Marine Terminal.

The amendment (#7777; see attached) is to Pennsylvania House Bill 666, authorizing the Department of General Services to “grant and convey” about 180 acres of lands situated in the city’s 39th ward from the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development (PAID) to the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA).

The amended bill comes up for final passage Tuesday. After that, it will go back to the state House of Representatives for concurrence, and then sent on to the desk of Gov. Ed Rendell, who is expected to enthusiastically sign it into law.

“I don’t foresee any problems in the House,” Farnese told PlanPhilly late on Monday.

PAID is the finance and bond-issuance arm of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC), the quasi-public agency that does most of the city’s large-scale development projects.

The bill made its way out of committee in the Senate less than a month ago, pushed by its primary sponsor State Rep. William Keller, a Philly Democrat and former longshoreman. The Southport Marine Terminal is generally thought to be contingent on the dredging of the Delaware River, an issue that appears to drawing to a close as the Army Corps of Engineers proceeds with its work, started in early March, in the Delaware Bay.

“When you look at this picture – thousands of family-sustaining jobs, it doesn’t make any sense to dredge and not do the Southport project,” Farnese said.

The amendment addresses property boundaries, ensuring that Norfolk Southern Railroad land is not included as part of the bill. “It was a very technical amendment, carved out a part of formally submerged land,” Farnese explained. “We’re transferring what was purely and exclusively formerly submerged land.”

Norfolk Southern was concerned about its property in the wake of Keller’s bill being passed – property that was evidently supposed to be part of the total package of 240 acres (including land already owned by the DRPA). Much of the Navy Yard and vicinity is in-fill land, “formerly submerged” riverbed once part of the Delaware River – also known as “riparian.”

Keller, in legislation leading up to 666, said the Navy had no right to deed those riparian properties to the city when the entire base was given over more than a decade ago. Passed three times, Keller’s legislation ran into successive vetoes by Rendell. Recently, though, Rendell and Mayor Michael Nutter hammered out a deal allowing the city to retain “legal title” for development at the Navy Yard, but deeding 180 acres to the state for the Southport project.

Farnese  said he’s not aware of any threatened legal action on the part of Norfolk Southern. “I don’t think the bill was in jeopardy at all,” he said. “Like all good legislation, you want to make sure all the interested parties are taken care of, especially when you are talking about land transfer.”

Rendell has promised some $25 million in state aid for site preparation and utility infrastructure measures.

“This will allow Philadelphia to compete with New York, Wilmington, Baltimore, and even other ports in other parts of the country,” Farnese said. “We are going to become a major player in this global business.”

In May, various worldwide terminal operators and shipping companies took part in a seminar to learn more about the ongoing bidding process for long-term commitments to the pending Southport terminal. Initial proposals will be pared down a handful of companies, with the preferred candidate selected in September or early October.

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