If you’ve been following the NJ over the past few weeks, they’ve done a couple of stories on work that Diamond State Corporation (the entity that runs the port for taxpayers) and DEDO have been doing to try to privatize (or get a private partner — not so sure of the difference between the two) the operations of the Port of Wilmington. Much of this discussion is being held outside of the public eye, something that should concern every taxpayer. Without public scrutiny or input, Diamond State has hired a management/financial consultant, put out a solicitation, received responses, shortlisted two potential investors (one a local group, the other not) and made a selection — Kinder Morgan.
Kinder Morgan is a huge organization and they mostly bill themselves as an energy transport company. They do have terminal operations as a business component, and they operate facilities throughout the Mid-Atlantic, including Camden, NJ; Fairless Hills, PA, Sparrows Point, MD and others in VA. Much of the news and growth of Kinder Morgan is in transporting fuels of all kinds — coal, natural gas, petroleum and petroleum products. There is much speculation that any expansion of the Port of Wilmington will include the development of a facility to ship natural gas from here, which would require a facility to liquefy the natural gas for transport. Some years back, there was a planned LNG facility in Logan Township NJ, and was scuttled largely because Delaware successfully argued in the Supreme Court that the water adjacent to this proposed site was the territory of the State of Delaware. Keep in mind that the largest LNG transport ships need a shipping channel of approx. 40 ft and the new shipping channel in the Delaware will be 45 ft.
It is hard to know what it is that Kinder Morgan and the State have in mind for this facility. Certainly they are looking at expansion of the facility as well as repair:
Wilmington’s best hope for a big piece of that action requires development of new pier and cargo-handling facilities on the Delaware River itself, a potential $500 million investment unlikely under a taxpayer financing approach.
Limited portions of the Wilmington solicitation indicated that the port had insufficient resources to meet tenant capital needs or to take advantage of opportunities created by an ongoing deepening of the Delaware River’s main shipping channel.
Interesting that the State can’t help this port fulfill its potential as an asset while throwing money at banks and other ventures. Especially since this port doesn’t have much opportunity to pick up and go to another state. But what is true is that this potential -$500M investment deserves a great deal of scrutiny. In looking for info on Kinder Morgan, I found that they know their way around doing deals with public money with little public scrutiny. We definitely need to know what kinds of operations Kinder Morgan will be restricted from doing. We need to know that under the table deals to circumvent environmental regulations are not being done (here is a report from the Sightline Institute on KM and some of their environmental record. I do not know how reliable this report is — posting a photo claiming that it shows coal dust contamination without sampling data is questionable to me). We need to know what kind of balance sheet support KM will be getting from taxpayers. We need to know that taxpayers will not be giving back money to Kinder Morgan if they run into a financial downturn (like the casinos). We need to know that Kinder Morgan will not destabilize the good jobs that are already at the port, and commit to more good jobs. We need to know that Kinder Morgan will not be making its money (or financing this operation) by asking employees to work more for less money.
This last bit is really key. Everytime the administration trots out another check for another firm, they tell us that they are investing in “good jobs for Delawareans”. In this instance, the good jobs with good middle class wages exist. We really need to know that this deal is not a hidden race to the bottom, with the current and future workforce the folks who get to pay the price for this privatization. We’ve heard some concerns from union folk about this deal and we’re prepared to share those concerns, but they’ll need to step it up here and get better and reliable information out to their friends who are just as concerned. And I’ll point out that unions really delivered for a number of candidates this election season and they’ll need to be pretty active in making sure that the folks they pulled out the stops for are reminded of their commitments. But in the meantime, I think that it would be smart to let your legislators know that this deal needs real public scrutiny — not just a perfunctory public hearing after the deal is made.