PHILADELPHIA-A group of local maritime entities has filed a lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania seeking a review of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority’s decision to exchange its 45-acre Pier 98 Annex property for an approximately 29-acre parcel owned and occupied by Houston-based Sysco Corp. The PRPA board approved the swap by a 7-to-2 vote on Sept. 22.

The lawsuit, filed by the International Longshoremen’s Associates District Council of Philadelphia and Wilmington, DE; the Philadelphia Marine Trade Association, and the Maritime Stakeholders Group, claims that PRPA over-stepped its jurisdiction by deciding to convey maritime land to a non-maritime related use. Senior Judge Barry Feudale has scheduled a hearing on the matter for Oct. 3 in the court in Harrisburg.

The swap agreement, William McLaughlin of PRPA tells, resulted because Sysco’s current site, which is about six blocks northwest of Pier 98 Annex, is inadequate. It needs more space. We’d have that site for development.” While the current Sysco site is smaller than the Pier 98 Annex parcel, McLaughlin says, “in recent assessments, it has been deemed more valuable.”

In a statement, the plaintiffs say that the 1989 law that created PRPA specifically mentions among its mandated activities “more effective coordination of port facilities and port-related projects within a port zone along the Delaware River,” and “long-term economic health requiring reliable access to waterborne transportation.”

In the court filing, the plaintiffs charge, “PRPA has now resolved, in direct contravention of its purpose, to convey the Pier 98 Annex, a valuable port facility, to Sysco, so that Sysco can build a distribution center with no ties to maritime commerce.” It further states that the swap is “inconsistent with PRPA’s duty to develop the port of Philadelphia.”

“The Maritime Stakeholders Group feels that PRPA’s action is in direct conflict with Gov. Edward Rendell’s recent announcement that the channel-deepening project will commence,” says Uwe Schulz, president of the Philadelphia Maritime Trade Association, in a statement. This May, Rendell announced an agreement to allow dredging of the main channel of the Delaware under PRPA’s direction, in order to provide for larger shipping vessels. Calls to representatives of the Maritime Stakeholders Group and the Philadelphia Marine Trade Associates were not returned by deadline.

Sysco is the largest food services distributor in North America. As previously reported, its Philadelphia operation at 666 Packer Ave. was expanded from a 195,000-sf facility on 17 acres in 2004 with an additional 210,000-sf facility on an adjacent 12.4-acre site it acquired from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.

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