On Privatizing the Port of Wilmington, Bob Marshall Says ‘Not So Fast, My Friends’.

Filed in National by on December 17, 2012

In what I consider to be a masterfully-crafted letter, Sen. Bob Marshall has made clear that he does not intend to let Markell/Levin push a Port of Wilmington privatization proposal through without legislative oversight.

As you may recall, a recent Friday news dump by the Markell Administration contained the announcement that Kinder Morgan had emerged as the ‘preferred partner’ to run the Port. Both Kinder and Morgan made their corporate bones at Enron, and their company specializes in pipelines and the fluids that run through them.

Here is the Senate press release concerning Sen. Marshall’s letter:

Before negotiations over operational control of the Port of Wilmington go much further, Sen. Robert I. Marshall says key players need to answer questions about the proposal before the General Assembly and that lawmakers will have to OK to any deal.Marshall, D-Wilmington West, who held a hearing on a possible privatization deal for the port earlier this year, said he’s planning a hearing on the current proposal now being negotiated between the state and Houston-based Kinder Morgan in the spring. Marshall also is requesting materials relating to proposal for his review so he can prepare for the hearing.

Currently, Economic Development Director Alan Levin has failed to keep an agreement to provide Marshall with information on the proposal and Marshall said that Levin seems to be reversing himself by questioning the General Assembly’s role in reviewing and approving any deal.

“Over the years, we’ve invested substantial amounts of taxpayer dollars in the port. It’s a state asset and we take our responsibility to the port, its workers, the city and state seriously,” he said. “Director Levin gave me assurances both privately and at our public hearing that this is a matter that would come to the General Assembly for review and ratification. But if there’s any question about our role in this, I’m ready to propose legislation clearing that up in January.”

And Marshall said there are issues left over from the earlier hearing that needs to be addressed.

“There were substantive questions left hanging on the effects a privatization arrangement would have on the port’s customers and labor force when that hearing adjourned,” Marshall said. “We were told we would get more information as the process moved forward but that hasn’t been the case and I think before this goes too far along, we should get those answers to help inform our final decision.”

Although he’s disappointed at the lack of communications between the administration and lawmakers on the plan thus far, Marshall said he is ready to work with Gov. Jack Markell, but added the administration shouldn’t take that as a green light to push the project ahead without legislative approval.

“The governor’s intention to improve our competitive position is understandable and good. So I’m confident that we can work through this together,” Marshall said. “But we can’t let the lure of big investment money lead to something we’ll regret down the line.

Our job in the Legislature is to look at the whole deal, make sure it’s in everyone’s best interest, then either accept or reject it.”

A key issue, Marshall said is the company’s intentions for the port. According to the company’s website, it is an energy transportation firm operating pipelines and energy terminals, including terminals in New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

Marshall said that should be a concern since Delaware used its control of the Delaware River and the Coastal Zone Act to block BP’s plans to build a $750 million liquefied natural gas terminal at Crown Landing, N.J., across the river from Wilmington. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court settled the dispute saying Delaware had the right to block the project.

“Given the battle we fought with New Jersey over building a major energy terminal right across the river, I think it’s essential that we learn what Kinder Morgan wants to do with the port were they to land this deal,” Marshall said. “We need to make sure their plans wouldn’t put our port’s reputation, its employees or our environment at risk.”

Originally, the port was owned by the city but it transferred control of the facility to the state, which runs it though the Diamond State Port Corp. While the port is typically a priority in the state’s capital budget officials have said it constantly struggles to break even because of high maintenance expenses.

Marshall said the security of the port’s workers should be central to any agreement.

“Our hard-working port employees enjoy a good middle-class life because of their customer-focused attitude and willingness to go the extra mile to provide good service,” Marshall said. “They’re an asset whose value to the port and its great reputation is incalculable and we need to sure they aren’t victimized by any privatization plan.”

This letter was clearly written with input from legal counsel, and makes clear Sen. Marshall’s intention to ensure legislative involvement in any consideration of this privatization proposal.

Good for him.

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  1. cassandra m says:

    Good for him, indeed.

    I’m very interested in this:
    While the port is typically a priority in the state’s capital budget officials have said it constantly struggles to break even because of high maintenance expenses.

    Because those expenses don’t go away if you outsource the operation of the port. And whoever takes over the operation will want to get that maintenance done AND make money routinely. So I’d be interested in how they intend to do BOTH of these when the State of Delaware can’t manage even one.

  2. Jason330 says:

    The magical free market unicorn descending from on high – or a free reign from the state to hose workers. One of those things is in an appendix of the Kinder Morgan business plan. ..but which one?

  3. Anon says:

    My expectation is that the Markell Administration will quietly remove all regulatory impediments and let them expand extensively without any consideration to what comes in and out, or the impact on the nearby residents as you get more truck traffic and pollutants around the adjacent neighborhoods. These folks already have to deal with extensive fuguitive dust from petor-coke, salts, and an list of other bulk transfered materials that impact them.

    These are the communities like Eden Park, Simons Gardens, Holloway Terrace,Rosegate, and Hamilton Park that are already stressed communities. My guess is that they will also seek to do something with the Wilminton South Dredged Disposal site and the former Pidgeon Point Landfill, opening up a wide array of environmental issues for the Delaware River that they will sweep under the carpet.

    It will only be profitable if someone with lots of money to invest can do so with no regulatory constraints or concerns about Delaware Citizens living in the area.

    Good for Bob Marshall, this arrogance needs to be challenged.

  4. cassandra m says:

    Good public hearings on this should make any quiet action tougher to do. It would be good if Marshall could record and live stream these hearings so that the content is widely available and not dependent on the NJ reporting.

  5. Julius Cephas says:

    The Request for Proposal (RFP) on Kinder Morgan’s plans to operate the Port of Wilmington has not been disclosed by Board Chairman, Alen Levin. We have pressed them to disclose Kinder Morgan’s plans but have gotten no where. As a union president of Local 1694-1, we are concerned about our jobs being outsourced, competitive living wage and benefit package cut, and the weakening of collective bargaining negotiations of the unions. Democratic State Representative, Helene Keeley comes from a labor background and I am surprised that we have not gotten more support from her. She also sits on the Port’s Board. I also agree that live public stream hearings is a great idea. Unions Must Stay Strong in Solidarity. God Bless Democratic Senator Marshall for stepping up! Julius Cephas, 1694-1 President.

  6. Julius Cephas says:

    Spotlight from: Economic Policy Institute: The State of Working America
    For much of the 1950s, roughly one-third of employees belonged to unions. In 2011, only 12 percent did. Among public-sector employees, more than one-third (37 percent) are unionized, while in the private sector, only 7 percent are. This reduction limits the number of good quality jobs with union wage and benefits premiums. It also reduces the role of collective bargaining in setting standards in particular occupations and industries that benefit workers not directly covered by collective bargaining.
    Workers covered by collective bargaining also have better benefit packages with lower health care deductibles and better access to family health coverage.
    The decline in collective bargaining coverage accounted for 1/3 of the growth of wage inequality among men and 1/5 among women between 1973-2007.

  7. Roland D. Lebay says:

    Julius Cephas-

    I don’t dispute anything you’ve written above. But…

    As a former union member, I can tell you that Organized Labor has a public relations problem and a membership problem.

    Non-union workers see union workers as lazy, overpaid morons. The real problem is that the non-union guys are right as often as they’re wrong.

    Here’s a taste of my union experience:

    My former employer built a new facility in Philly about 10 years ago. This was a union shop, and the construction workers were all union members. We IAM members watched as four local Iron Workers spent TWO WEEKS doing a job that should have taken TWO workers less than 3 days to complete. We watched union painters turn a 4 day project into a 2 week project. We watched union cement workers pour concrete into the union plumber/pipefitter’s drain pipes in our break room. I could go on for hours, but you get the point.

    Unions will rise again if they can get their shit together and stop accepting lazy morons as members. Otherwise they’ll go the way of the dodo.

  8. captain midnight says:

    Another issue will be how much money kinder Morgan will squeeze out of the state in low interest loans, tax subsides, infrastructure improvement funds, etc. You can always assume the state will get the short end of the stick when dealing with these guys.