State Rep. Bill Keller of South Philadelphia sees port business along the Delaware River growing exponentially in the next 10 years if the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority expands maritime work into the Navy Yard.
But Keller, a former longshoreman, says the Port Authority has a different idea: relocating the Philadelphia Regional Produce Terminal from Packer Avenue to the eastern end of the Navy Yard.
Such a move, Keller says, will slowly strangle the port's ability to expand in the one area left to it, while north of the port, other commercial uses, including Foxwoods Casino's plan for a slots parlor at the river's edge at Reed Street, are changing the nature of the riverfront.
The Port Authority is simply carrying out the plans announced in September 2005 by Gov. Rendell and state Sen. Vincent Fumo to retain more than 1,000 jobs in Philadelphia by investing $100 million in a new produce terminal.
Keller, who attended the 2005 announcement and who had been full of praise for both Rendell and Fumo, said yesterday that relocating the Food Distribution Center to the Navy Yard may have made sense two years ago - but no more. Growth of international trade is changing calculations about port development up and down the East Coast, he said.
"Why won't we sit down and take the time to look at creating maybe 20,000 jobs?" Keller asked. "People talk about how we need jobs for kids who don't go to college, for kids in the neighborhoods. We should be jumping up and down to create these jobs. We can be like New York. But no, we actually want to kill these jobs."
Keller said the eastern end of the old Navy Yard is a "diamond in the rough" and should be reserved for maritime activity.
On Friday, the International Longshoremen's Association and the Philadelphia Marine Trade Association, the employer group that hires longshoremen, are slated to make a rare joint presentation to the Port Authority board, Keller said.
They'll argue that the Food Distribution Center should be located at Pier 98 near Oregon Avenue, a site that the center had considered before Rendell's decision to move the billion-dollar business to the Navy Yard.
But William B. McLaughlin III, Port Authority spokesman, said locating the Food Distribution Center at the Navy Yard still leaves plenty of riverfront available for port expansion.
He cited the Port Authority's "Southport" plan, which would expand the port onto "parcel 9A," an 80-acre strip adjacent to the Navy Yard along the river as it turns north. The authority also wants to purchase about 54 acres from railroad companies, including two inactive piers.
McLaughlin said the port's expansion plans must have two other elements: dredging the river channel to 45 feet deep and rehabilitating port facilities. The Rendell administration is considering a bond issue of at least $300 million that would, in part, fund port development, he said.