Produce-terminal plans draw heated rebuttal

At a port agency meeting, maritime and labor officials said the location would pose a security risk and hamper growth.

Moving the Regional Produce Market to the Navy Yard would create serious security risks and block major growth at the Port of Philadelphia, maritime business and labor leaders said yesterday.

Uwe Schulz, president of the Ports of the Delaware River Marine Trade Association, pressed port officials to fight a plan by Gov. Rendell and State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) to put the new produce terminal on the Navy Yard site, just south of the port. The association is the employer group that hires labor for the port.

The planned Foxwood Casino site "is choking us to the north," and the produce market would block growth to the south, Schulz said at a contentious meeting of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority board.

State Rep. William F. Keller, (D., Phila.), a former longshoreman, said the demand for seaport docks has recently become so strong that private investors would pay for much of port expansion.

"We don't need money, we need cooperation," Keller said.

Boise Butler, a member of the port board and president of International Longshoremen's Association Local 1291, said his members must work on the river, unlike employees at casinos and the produce market. "We should be working together to find another place to put the produce market," Butler said.

The Rendell-Fumo site announced in 2005 is at the eastern end of the former Philadelphia Navy Base - now named the Navy Yard - at the foot of Broad Street.

It drew heavy fire only recently. Maritime business and labor leaders have hired consultant Edward M.A. Zimny of Paul F. Richardson Associates Inc. of Holmdel, N.J., to explain their belief that the port can grow more dramatically than was envisioned two years ago.

Most Asian cargo goes through jammed West Coast ports, which have little expansion room, and it is carried east by railroads. Major carriers are ordering larger ships that will go through the Suez Canal directly to East Coast seaports, Zimny said.

To grow dramatically, the port here must expand southward onto the Navy Yard site proposed for the produce terminal, Zimny said. That would allow the port, which handles the equivalent of 544,000 20-foot-long cargo containers a year, to grow to 3.5 million containers annually within a decade.

Based on jobs generated by that number of containers in other ports, Zimny forecast that maritime-related jobs here could grow to 175,000, from 45,000 now.

As now planned, the produce market would require extending Delaware Avenue and building a four-lane bridge from Pattison Avenue to the Navy Yard over the sprawling Greenwich railroad yard adjacent to the port's huge Packer Avenue terminal. The road and bridge would be needed to handle heavy traffic to the produce terminal: chefs, grocers, buyers for neighborhood food-buying cooperatives, and a heavy stream of 18-wheelers from the nation's farmlands. That traffic through the port would violate tightening homeland-security regulations, Zimny said.

The produce market, a collection of 35 independent businesses, has its own concerns. Its present terminal, adjacent to the sports complex in South Philadelphia, was built in 1959 and is worn out. It also needs a new facility to comply with stricter government regulation of food shipments in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Brian J. Preski, chairman of the port board, defended the produce market plan briefly, hinting that the authority had to agree to that site to win state funds for port improvements.

He adjourned the meeting with a pledge to keep working on the issue. However, Rendell and Fumo have assured produce market officials that they are pressing ahead with their plan for a $150 million terminal.


Contact staff writer Henry J. Holcomb at 215-854-2614 or hholcomb@phillynews.com.