A world class container port development at the Port of Philadelphia moved closer with the appearance here of United States Senator Arlen Specter confirming the government’s commitment to fund the 45-foot Delaware River dredging project.

Standing in the 90-degree sun just yards from a crane working a containership in port, the senior senator from Pennsylvania said: “I have also stood here in 11-degree weather in support of maritime projects because this is the heart and soul of our region.” Joining Senator Specter was U. S. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, signifying an important bi-partisan endorsement of the project.

The goal in the region is to build a world-class facility that can provide 175,000 jobs and handle up to 3.5 million containers annually at Southport at the Philadelphia Navy Yard property. It has been under study for a year, supported by the Maritime Stakeholders Group, a regional entity that represents a cross-section of organizations in Philadelphia, South Jersey and Wilmington, Delaware, involved in promoting port development.

“We did this collectively,” said Senator Casey, praising the efforts of labor and other maritime interests-many of who crowded the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal where the announcement was made. “It is a great day for our region.”

Absent from the event but ever-present in spirit was Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, a major supporter of the $300 million dredging, who was able to convince New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine to support the effort as well.

‘It was a brass-knuckled affair, but Pennsylvania won,” said Specter.

Congressman Bob Brady of Philadelphia who said: “I’m happy the two governors finally got together and realized this was an important project for both sides of the river.”

The channel’s current depth of 40 feet has been the same since 1941. The channel’s new depth will reach 45 feet. With $66 million already secured, Specter confirmed that the project could begin, as the balance needed from the federal government will be forthcoming. The state of Pennsylvania will fund about $170 million.

State Representative Bill Keller, a former longshoreman, congratulated Governor Rendell for “his courageous stand” in obtaining agreement on the dredging project. “This will serve as a lynchpin for the economic development of the region,” said Keller. He cited the leadership of International Longshoremen’s Association officials in Philadelphia, Boise Butler III, President of Local 1291, and James Paylor, president of Local 1566 in Philadelphia, who have worked tirelessly to promote port development that can bring jobs to waiting skilled labor and economic improvement to the region.

Keller, who has an influential role within the coalition of stakeholders, called the positive events for port development “a dream for Philadelphia we have been anticipating for 30 years. The rank and file are prepared for the growth we anticipate.”

Dennis Rochford, a leading member of the Maritime Stakeholders Group and President of the Maritime Exchange of the Delaware River and Bay, which represents nearly 300 maritime businesses, said that the elected officials were “true friends of the port bringing us news that is a very big deal for our region.”

“The Maritime Stakeholders Group feels that we have made remarkable progress, particularly with the vision of Governor Rendell, in developing our region as the major shipping and logistics center on the Atlantic Coast,” said Uwe Schulz, President of the Ports of the Delaware River Marine Trade Association (PMTA) that represents longshore labor employers.

Significant milestones include:

  • Governor Rendell’s announcement in May that a planned Food Distribution Center would not be built on Navy Yard property. The coalition had asked the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority to relocate a proposed 1,100-employee Food Distribution Center (FDC) away from prime waterfront real estate, as it would have jeopardized a major container facility, as well as block access to the three Class 1 railroads that cal