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.