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$300M for Philly's port will create 2,000 jobs but it's 'bittersweet' for Rep. Bob Brady

Pennsylvania elected officials gathered Wednesday to celebrate the $300 million capital investment announced a month ago by Gov. Wolf for the Philadelphia port, expected to double container cargo capacity and create about 2,000 more direct port jobs.

The $300 million will mark the first major investment in Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia and Tioga Marine Terminal in Port Richmond since the terminals were built in the late 1960s. And it will be funded by a bond issued through the state's General Services capital improvement program.

The port's cash flow will pay off the bond. "This is not coming from the taxpayers," Wolf said.

As officials stepped up to laud the port improvements, U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, a Democrat whose district includes much of the riverfront in Philadelphia and Delaware County, said for him the $300 million announcement was "bittersweet."

Brady said he was "a little disturbed" to learn recently that 23 employees at the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) were losing their jobs. "You can call it layoff, buyout, but there are still 23 people who aren't going to be working anymore," Brady said. "You can't forget these little guys. We're big guys."

Afterward, port officials said that the PRPA, a state agency, was being reorganized and a voluntary separation program had been offered to all PRPA staff.  Twenty-three decided to take it, said Jeff Theobald, the port authority's chief executive officer.

"Nobody had to take the program," said Greg Iannarelli, the PRPA legal counsel. Employees were offered $1,500 per year of service, up to $25,000. "We announced there will be a 30 percent reduction in staff" by the end of January.

Jerry Sweeney, the port authority board chairman, said staffing and skill sets in the port need to be competitive going forward. The settlements are "the first step in what we view as an overall restructuring."

Plans for Packer Avenue terminal include electrifying and strengthening the wharf,  and getting four new "post Panamax" cranes capable of stacking cargo containers higher. Some older warehouses will be removed and new ones built, said Tom Holt Jr., whose family runs state-owned Packer terminal. The first two cranes are being built in China now and will arrive in October, he said.

Improvements to Tioga Marine Terminal will include more warehouse space, rail upgrades, and possibly a mobile harbor crane, said Robert Palaima, president of Delaware River Stevedores, which runs Tioga.

The $300 million is expected to increase container cargo capacity by 86 percent; cargoes known as "break bulk" such as wood pulp, steel, and produce by 21 percent; and the capacity to handle automobiles by 166 percent.

Annual revenue to the state is expected to grow from $5.7 million to $18.9 million.  Direct port jobs, not including truck drivers and other positions, are expected to grow from 3,124 to 5,378 within three to five years. State and local taxes are expected to increase from $69.6 million to $108.4 million. Autos will continue to arrive at Packer Avenue and at a new location, Pier 122, on the Delaware River.

Environmental groups including Green Justice Philly were on hand Wednesday to praise the governor's port plan, which does not include building oil and gas facilities on the 195 vacant acres on the Delaware River known as Southport.

"We all worked together in order to ensure that there was not going to be a fossil-fuel expansion development project here," said Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.