The Port of Wilmington and Jack Markell and Kinder Morgan

The Port of Wilmington , originally called the Wilmington Marine Terminal, was built for the City of Wilmington by the Engineering Department of E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co. and opened in 1923.  It was funded by bond issues, has been since, and rightfully belongs to the people of Delaware.

When the Coastal Zone Act was passed in the 1970s, the Port was exempted, though a main purpose of the Act was to prohibit new “bulk transfer” facilities.

Years later, with the connivance of government-selected, tame, Delaware “enviros,” the exemption of the Port was greatly expanded to facilitate a potential expansion, or move, of the Port from the Christina River to direct frontage on the Delaware River.  Per usual, Green Delaware stood pretty much along in opposing this.  (A berth on the Delaware River was opened in 2002.)

in 1995, ownership of the port was transferred from the City of Wilmington to the State (Diamond State Port Corporation).  This entity is chaired by Alan B. Levin, Director of the Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO).  Reasons given at the time were that the City lacked the resources to make the necessary investments to keep the Port up to date and “competitive.”  The Port Corp. has a Board of Directors.  Take a look at and see if you think the public interest is well-represented.

Critical DEDO activities–dealmaking–are generally exempt from the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, and DEDO campaigns, in harness with the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, against democracy, environmental protection, economic justice, and access to information.

Now, the Markell administration is apparently trying to sell, or lease, or give away, the Port of Wilmington to a private business.  The stated reason is more-or-less the same:  More investment is needed and even the Lord-High-Deal-Maker Markell can’t come up with it.

Workers at the Port are represented by Local 1694 of the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA). (It seems there are two local 1694s, and only one, 1694-1, is actively opposing the sale.) This is likely one of the few strongly unionized workforces left in Delaware and, as such, a natural target for the Markell/DEDO Axis of Greed.  Kinder Morgan, the chosen operator, has a nasty labor relations history and is expected by many to operate a non-union port if it takes over.  In just one episode, a suit by the US Department of labor resulted in Kinder Morgan agreeing to cough up $830,000 in overtime pay that workers had been cheated out of. (Greed is good for managers and investors but not for workers–even a middle-class level of life is more than us peons really deserve.)

On the other hand, some of the Delaware Building Trades unions are reported to be pushing for the deal with Kinder Morgan.

The plan, apparently–details have not surfaced–is to sell or lease the Port to Kinder Morgan, a big corporation with an interesting and unpleasant history.  Described in the business press as “one of the largest energy transportation and storage companies on the continent, with about 75,000 miles of pipelines and 180 terminals,” Kinder Morgan is described in detail in this 16 page report from the Sightline Institute. “The Facts about Kinder Morgan–Coal shipper has a track record of pollution, lawbreaking, and cover-ups.

Businesses now operating at the Port have complained about the secretiveness of the proceedings.  The Wilmington News Journal reported on January 17, 2013:

“The Port of Wilmington Maritime Society issued a letter to Gov. Jack Markell on Tuesday saying that businesses that rely on the port are feeling left out of the process of crafting a deal.  In interviews, businesses expressed concern that Kinder Morgan, which specializes in energy transportation, does not have experience running a fresh fruit port like Wilmington.  The Diamond State Port Corp. has been seeking a private partner to renovate and expand the port,  and in December the port’s board selected Kinder Morgan as the exclusive bidder for the contract.  The Maritime Society represents the roughly 60 businesses that work at and around the port, including the banana companies Dole and Qhiquita, as well as large tenants like Auto Port and Magellan Midstream Partners.”

The Delaware General Assembly has passed Senate Bill 3, essentially saying that any port deal needs the approval of the legislature.  Interestingly, the Senate roll call shows a near-party-line vote with Republicans opposing SB 3 and Democrats supporting it.  Gov. Markell, nominally a Democrat, signed SB 3 on Feb. 5, 2013.

However, the laws establishing the Port Corporation already say:

“The certificate of incorporation of the Corporation shall provide for approval of the Delaware General Assembly in order to amend the certificate of incorporation, to effect a merger or dissolution of the Corporation or to effect a sale of all or substantially all of the assets of the Corporation.”   (29 Del.C. Sec. 8731(a)

Could this be evaded by a lease rather than a sale?

Outright sale?  Long-term lease?  For how much money?  With what conditions?  Not questions Markell and Levin seem to think the present owners of the Port–the people of Delaware–are entitled to know.  As far as Green Delaware has been able to determine, the Port Corporation is subject to the Delaware Freedom of Information Act.

But lets get back to the environmental concerns, which are major on many levels.

One is the extraordinary history of spills, leaks, explosions, and unacceptable operating practices of Kinder Morgan, as detailed in the Sightline Institute report.

The other is the possibility that large coal or gas export facilities could be build in Wilmington.  Not so many years ago Green Delaware was heavily involved in a successful effort to prevent a natural gas (LNG) import terminal from being built upriver on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.  The oil and gas industries, and their echo-chamber corporate media, were saying the US would run out of gas without a massive increase in imports.  Now, the worm has turned and the same media and agencies are saying we need massive exports of gas so the oil and gas people can sell their fracked gas at world market prices.  Of course, exporting LNG would pose similar or greater hazards than importing it.

Similarly, US coal use has dropped because gas is cheaper and some people think it pollutes less.  So the coalers want to boost their business by exporting coal.  People in the Pacific Northwest are effective fighting Kinder Morgan schemes to build large new coal export facilities.  Would Delaware be threatened by such a facility?  Kinder Morgan seems to be in the business of running pipelines and fuel terminals, but not ports in general, so concerns about this seem justified.

It’s not easy to seriously envision a large LNG terminal at the Port, for safety reasons.  On the other hand, the Reading Railroad once had a coal-loading facility on the Delaware River, not far from the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the present site of the notorious Delaware Solid Waste Authority Pigeon Point garbage dump.

However one looks at it, this doesn’t look good.

[note, an earlier version of this Alert with several errors was received by some people.  We regret this error.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *