State House Democrats want container cargoes, and not fossil fuel, at the proposed Southport site at the Navy Yard

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Southport, at the eastern end of the Navy Yard, would be developed as a cargo terminal — and not for fossil-fuel related uses — under a proposal being pushed by Philadelphia’s delegation to the state House.

Eighteen members of the Philadelphia delegation to the state House have urged the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority and Chairman Gerard "Jerry" Sweeney to develop the eastern end of the Navy Yard known as Southport as a marine terminal for container and other cargoes -- and not for fossil-fuel related uses.

The officials, all Democrats, asked the Port Authority in a letter Wednesday to develop the state-owned land at Southport for "environmentally responsible container shipping, not fossil fuel projects." The group noted that Gov. Wolf has said that a container port would create more than 3,500 jobs.

Putting in a crude oil train, natural gas liquids terminal, fossil fuel pipeline, or shale gas or oil processing facility would be "unacceptable" and "deteriorate air and water quality, present public health risks to Philadelphia residents, and exacerbate climate change," the letter said.

Six original groups were "short listed" in January and asked to submit financial and development plans. They included a real estate group funded by the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and the politically connected but unsuccessful bidder for Philadelphia Gas Works, Liberty Energy Trust.

One was a local refinery. Philadelphia Energy Solutions, which runs the former Sunoco refinery in South Philadelphia, proposed building an import/export facility for crude oil and refined oil products.

In the spring, environmental groups, including Green Justice Philly coalition, protested against PES erecting 250,000 barrel tanks for storing crude, gasoline, and diesel. PES had wanted a "buoyed dock" to offload and load ships, with pumps and piping connecting the facilities to PES refineries.

The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) extended the initial Sept. 1 deadline for final bids to Nov. 1 and now to Dec. 15. It's unknown how many of the six original bidders will submit final proposals.

Southport, which would be the city's first major maritime expansion in 50 years, consists of three parcels: 119 empty waterfront acres on the Delaware  south of the Walt Whitman Bridge; 75 acres around an old seaplane hangar in the Navy Yard; and the north berth of Pier 124 on the Delaware.

In April, the PRPA added a requirement that the successful developer of the 119 riverfront acres construct a wharf with two ship berths capable of handling container cargoes, even if the land is commercialized for a different use. The Port Authority wanted to ensure that a portion of land would be preserved for future maritime use, such as containers and other cargoes.  

Five of 23 Democrats on the Philadelphia House delegation did not sign the letter. They were Jordan A. Harris, Leslie Acosta, Mark B. Cohen, Dwight Evans, and Brian Sims.

"A couple were just hard to get hold of and didn't get back to us soon enough," said Rep. Maria P. Donatucci, a member of the Philadelphia delegation, referring to the five who did not sign. The intent of the letter is "not anti energy hub," she said. "If they put energy-related things down there it would take up 50 acres. We're finding the best use of this land would be for containers because of the amount of jobs."

"We were looking more at the jobs it would create," Donatucci said, "and if it worked environmentally, that makes it even sweeter." Transportation jobs are high-paying jobs, and would put a lot of Philadelphians to work, she said.

“Southport is a chance for city leaders to create good jobs, clean up Philadelphia’s air, and strike a blow against climate change all at once,” said Sam Rubin, organizer at Food and Water Watch, which worked with the Green Justice Philly coalition to oppose fossil fuel expansion at Southport. “It’s time for Gov. Wolf to let Philadelphia know where he stands on an issue that is critical to the city’s future," Rubin said.

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