A Creative Plan For The Navy Yard

Posted: April 13, 1994

The next 90 days, says U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, will be "intense."

Weldon led a bipartisan delegation of five local congressmen to Russia last week. They returned with an agreement to explore what could be a great deal for the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

If the idea proves environmentally and economically sound, as many as 150 old Soviet warships would be dismantled at the shipyard over the next several years. The plan is to buy the warships for cash - giving the Russians hard currency they desperately need. Workers at the Navy Yard would then dismantle the ships and the scrap metal would be sold.

The project would employ thousands of people, and would provide a way to keep the skilled workforce at the yard while other private work is found.

For a long time, many have felt ambivalent about some of the efforts to force the Navy to keep the shipyard open. Some strategies - including the lawsuit favored by Sen. Arlen Specter - are out of sync with the times.

Trying to stretch out military spending to save local jobs means continuing military policies for a world which no longer exists. Even if you're successful in the short term, you have not found a real solution. You have only put off the inevitable.

Better to build realistic plans for the future than hang on too desperately to the past.

The excitement over the Russians' initial agreement has to be tentative, though. Within the next 90 days, intricate negotiations must be mastered:

* Will private companies or a government agency - or both - purchase and dismantle the ships?

* Can government subsidies be obtained to cover the cost of towing the ships to Philadelphia and removing environmentally hazardous materials?

Nothing like this has been tried before, and an ocean of potential deal- killing problems remains to be navigated.

The fact remains, though, that if the Russians send the ships to the United States for dismantling, they will send them to Philadelphia. And creative thinking by Weldon, with support from Congressmen Tom Foglietta, Robert Borski, Lucien Blackwell and James Greenwood is the reason.

Even if this particular agreement doesn't work, it can provide information and experiences which are useful. In the continuing efforts to convert the Navy Yard to other uses, it's important to act quickly and in concert.

So it's enormously encouraging to see our congressmen responding realistically to the crisis.

IT'S LEGAL, BUT NOT RIGHT

Just because John Street has won in court doesn't mean he's doing the right thing.

What he's doing is wrong.

The 8th District seat on City Council, vacant since Herbert H. DeBeary Sr. died in December, remains vacant. The special election to fill the vacancy won't be held until at least November. In the meantime, no one is representing the district's 160,000 residents on City Council.

It's up to the City Council president to call the special election, and Street hasn't done so. Frustrated would-be candidates - denied their constitutional rights to representation - filed suit in federal court, asking that the special election be held this spring, perhaps on May 10 when the primary election takes place. U.S. Distict Judge Joseph L. McGlynn Jr. dismissed the suit, ruling that the city's Home Rule Charter gives the Council president sole discretion.

Street argued that he was doing nothing unlawful, and the judge apparently agreed. But legality is not necessarily synonymous with integrity.

A canny politician, Street appears to be holding out for the date on which he can best influence the election's results. Clever, but political skill is no virtue when it subverts the democratic process.

Disenfranchising 160,000 Philadelphians is inexcusable.

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