Placard-waving longshoremen urged the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority on Wednesday to hold to a strict Oct. 24 deadline for getting a cargo crane and the Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. ship deliveries moved back from Gloucester City to docks in South Philadelphia.
Packer Avenue Marine Terminal operator Astro Holdings Inc. and its president, Thomas Holt Jr., have asked for a 120-day extension - from receipt of a Sept. 24 letter - to respond and work cooperatively with the PRPA "through whatever concerns and issues they may have," Holt said Wednesday.
PRPA chairman John Estey said the extension request was reasonable, "given the importance of the issues involved."
In an e-mail to PRPA board members, Estey said he had spoken with Gov. Rendell, who "also believes that it is in the best interest of the PRPA to grant this extension; the governor may wish to address the board at our meeting next week about this matter."
However, Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said Wednesday, "the governor has not expressed an opinion, one way or the other."
Carrying placards outside the PRPA offices on Delaware Avenue, members of International Longshoremen's Association Local 1566 said the extension request was "a stall tactic. It's just dragging their feet," said South Philadelphia longshoreman Kevin Carroll.
On Sept. 24, the PRPA, landlord of the Philadelphia port, notified Holt that the Del Monte fruit business should have been offered first to Packer Avenue Marine Terminal under terms of a 1991 lease, before going to the Holt family's private terminal in Gloucester, because it amounted to new container business. In addition, a cargo crane that under the 1991 lease was to be at Packer Avenue, but is in Gloucester, should be moved here, the PRPA said.
"The argument could be made that they [Packer Avenue] were required to bid" for the Del Monte work, Estey said in an interview.
"The reason why I support the 120 days is it's a complicated set of questions as to who had to do what under the lease," Estey said. "I don't think it's unreasonable to spend a little bit of time trying to figure it out before we start spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers."
Rendell "has not expressed support" for an extension, Tuma said, and "has no recollection of the issue having been presented to him."
As a state agency, the PRPA is landlord of the Philadelphia port. Four of the 11 board members were appointed by Rendell. After a new Pennsylvania governor takes office in January, some of the board members may change.
Boise Butler, PRPA board member and president of ILA Local 1291, whose members lost work Oct. 1 when Del Monte left Camden for the less-costly labor facility in Gloucester, said he was "totally against any extension."
"If this has been wrong all of this time, which it has been, this crane has basically put us out of business," Butler said. "I hope we can keep together the majority of board members, wanting to do the right thing."
Holt said Wednesday that Del Monte was "a sophisticated company" and "aware of all the facilities on the river. They looked at Packer, and they made it clear that Packer was never going to work."
Holt said the Tioga Marine Terminal in Port Richmond had declined the Del Monte work. Del Monte "asked three times, and they wouldn't quote them," Holt said. "The answer came back, 'You couldn't afford it, and, furthermore, we would have to split the revenue with the PRPA.' "