Deal to expand Wilmington port is dead

Under the deal, energy company Kinder Morgan Inc. would operate the Wilmington port terminal, seek to expand its cargo, and spend $150 million to repair the port's infrastructure.
Under the deal, energy company Kinder Morgan Inc. would operate the Wilmington port terminal, seek to expand its cargo, and spend $150 million to repair the port's infrastructure. (Wilmington News Journal)
Posted: March 08, 2013

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has called off a deal to invest $200.5 million and operate the state-owned Port of Wilmington, citing antagonism from a local longshoreman union leader.

The publicly-traded energy company based in Houston wanted to expand cargoes, bring new jobs, and invest in needed port infrastructure repairs. The Diamond State Port Corp. in December named Kinder, with operations at Tioga Marine Terminal in Port Richmond and Fairless Hills, Bucks County, as the "preferred" bidder to lease the Wilmington port.

Julius Cephas, president of International Longshoreman's Association Local 1694-1, said the union was concerned about job preservation, salaries, and the potentially hazardous cargoes Kinder might export, such as coal and natural gas.

Cephas elicited support from several Delaware lawmakers, who approved a bill requiring legislative sign-off on any lease. After lawmakers made it known they would not approve a deal without union support, Kinder suspended negotiations.

Kinder Morgan president John W. Schlosser said in a letter to Diamond State Port chairman Alan Levin that Kinder presented a three-year deal with no reduction in the work force "as a starting point for our negotiations. However, Mr. Cephas repeatedly refused to meet with us, and instead publicly attacked our company for months in the press and with legislators."

Kinder Morgan planned to add "hundreds of new jobs, significantly more capital investment, with significant work done by the local Building Trades and substantially increased competitiveness for the Port of Wilmington," Schlosser wrote. "However, none of this is realistic if the local workforce is not productive because a volatile union leader is not even willing to negotiate, let alone agree to a reasonable contract."

Cephas said that workers and nearby residents were worried about the potential for coal dust, air pollution, spills and gas explosions if Kinder shipped coal or petroleum products.

Wilmington is the largest banana port in North America, and second only to Antwerp, Belgium, in banana cargoes in the world.

After Kinder bowed out, Cephas, in a statement, thanked the "diverse coalition of community leaders and concerned citizens" who wanted to protect the port. "Our fight is not over," he said. "We must continue to work with Gov. Markell and Alan Levin to develop a strategic plan to continue to make the port viable and sustainable for our future generation and create middle-class jobs."


Contact staff writer Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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