56 Piers Have Been Ordered Fixed Up Or Torn Down L&i Ordered Owners - Among Them Peco And Conrail - To Get Going Now. Popular Fishing Spots Could Be Closed.

Posted: September 26, 2000

Philadelphia officials have designated 56 of the city's 127 piers unsafe for public use, ordering their owners to immediately repair or demolish the aging structures.

Scattered from Philadelphia's northernmost waterfront to where the Delaware River meets the Schuylkill, most of the century-old piers declared imminently dangerous are vacant.

No residential, restaurant or entertainment piers have been deemed unsafe, according to city records.

Since the fatal collapse of Pier 34 South in May, the Department of Licenses and Inspections has taken on the task of making sure the piers dotting the city's waterfront are safe.

FOR THE RECORD - CLEARING THE RECORD, PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 27, 2000, FOLLOWS: Based on information supplied by the city Department of Licenses and Inspections, The Inquirer incorrectly reported the status of two Philadelphia Regional Port Authority piers in yesterday's editions. Pier 179 North, located in the Tioga Terminal and declared unsafe by L&I, is not used for unloading shipments. Pier 40 South has been judged safe. According to L&I, the authority owns 11 piers. Four, including shipping Pier 84 South, are considered imminently dangerous.

"A tragedy happened, and people should know their city is making sure it doesn't happen again," said L&I Commissioner Ed McLaughlin.

In the notices issued earlier this month, property owners were warned that if they failed to comply, the city would demolish the piers and bill the owners.

McLaughlin said that L&I's immediate goal was to make sure all imminently dangerous piers were sealed off.

"Any one of these piers can be dangerous if people are trespassing. If they are going on them to go fishing or to go in the water, they're risking their lives," McLaughlin said.

By next summer, L&I plans to compel owners to repair crumbling piers or demolish the unsafe portions, McLaughlin said. Earlier this month, L&I took down the first pier.

L&I also identified three corporations - including Peco Energy Co. - that have failed to respond to Mayor Street's request in May for detailed engineering reports vouching for the structures' safety.

The city has declared three Peco piers imminently dangerous.

Peco failed to respond to repeated letters requesting structural assessments, according to city records.

Peco spokesman Ben Armstrong said yesterday that the company was drafting a letter to L&I, vowing to attempt to complete the requested inspection within 30 days.

Armstrong said the piers were once used for unloading coal, but no longer.

"We do not have anyone working out on those piers," Armstrong said.

Delaware Avenue Enterprises, which owns eight piers along Columbus Boulevard in South Philadelphia, also has not submitted engineering reports.

Company spokesman Leo Holt said the firm had not received the mayor's written request, which was mailed to a post office box rather than the company's office.

"We have not gotten any such thing," Holt said, adding that the company frequently receives other paperwork from L&I.

Holt said the company's shipping piers are reviewed by the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers and are safe.

"They're more intensely engineered than the ones that sparked this whole thing," Holt said. But officials at L&I have declared three of the company's piers unsafe.

Holt said the company would comply with the mayor's request.

The city also identified Portfolio Purchasing Corp. as the unresponsive owner of the imminently dangerous Pier 41 North in Wissinoming.

Attorney William A. Harvey said Portfolio Purchasing has been defunct for six or seven years and did not own the property.

"They never owned anything there. It's an error on the city's records," he said.

Throughout the summer, L&I officials had considerable trouble tracking ownership of the city's century-old piers.

Until the May 18 collapse that killed three women at the nightclub Heat on Pier 34 South, the city did not monitor or regulate piers.

"What we're doing on this is a work in progress. It's something that nobody has ever tried to do before," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said the city is trying to make sure that nobody - particularly children - ventures onto dangerous piers. Some people are likely to find access blocked to their favorite fishing spots on vacant piers.

McLaughlin said the city is preparing to ask a judge to order property owner Rubin Inc. to seal off Pier 67 South - a popular fishing location adjacent to Wal-Mart and Home Depot on Columbus Boulevard at East Tasker Street.

"They have a responsibility to keep people off the piers," McLaughlin said, adding that Rubin Inc. had failed to comply with the city's previous requests to keep the public off its seven piers in the vicinity.

Doug Grayson, a spokesman for the group that owns the Rubin properties, said the company did not use the piers and had repaired the fences three weeks ago to keep trespassers away at the request of L&I.

"We've done exactly what they've asked us to do," he said. "I don't know what else we can do. If [people] are going to break the law, they're going to break the law."

Meanwhile, McLaughlin said he was considering other options to keep people from fishing off vacant piers.

"The city might see a need for a fishing pier since the city is now cutting off access," McLaughlin said.

Once the city is assured that all imminently dangerous piers are sealed off from public access by both land and water, McLaughlin said, L&I will take a closer look at those properties.

If only a portion of a pier is unsafe, he said, L&I will not insist on bringing the whole thing down.

L&I said it plans to work with the Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make sure deteriorating piers do not create shipping hazards.

To determine which piers were imminently dangerous, L&I officials surveyed piers from a police boat and helicopter.

L&I demolished vacant Pier 48 North earlier this month, McLaughlin said.

In August, city officials shut down Pier 40 North. Treasure Island, a restaurant ferry moored to the pier, remains closed. Pier 40 North is owned by Michael Asbell, the businessman who also owns the collapsed Pier 34 South. Both properties remain sealed off.

Among substantial waterfront-property owners, Conrail has seen eight of its 10 Richmond Street piers declared imminently dangerous. The railroad company has agreed to close off all its vacant piers, according to L&I.

Five of the 11 piers owned by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority are imminently dangerous, according to city records. One of its unsafe piers, the Tioga Terminal, is used for unloading shipments.

So is Pier 5625 on Tacony Street, owned by the Pennsylvania Fish and Wildlife Commission, city records show.

None of the city's 10 piers - including Penn Treaty Park, the city incinerator, and piers for fire boats and the Water Department - has been declared imminently dangerous. Engineering reports for those properties are in progress.

And none of Penn's Landing's 17 piers - including those occupied by Hooters, Rock Lobster and Dave and Buster's - was deemed imminently dangerous.

For piers that remain open, McLaughlin hopes to institute in coming months a protocol for routine inspection.

With the steps L&I has taken since Pier 34 South plunged into the chilly Delaware River, McLaughlin said, he fully believes there will not be another tragedy.

"I am very confident that if we had been doing this, then we would have spotted the problem," said McLaughlin, who declined to discuss the structural flaws of Pier 34 South because of a grand jury investigation.

Jacqueline Soteropoulos' e-mail address is jsoteropoulos@phillynews.com

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