Port Authority insurance decision postponed

A decision on whether the Delaware River Port Authority will continue to pay insurance on properties it does not own has been put off until the authority’s next meeting March 2.

The authority, a bi-state agency, had been scheduled to meet Wednesday and consider whether it should renew insurance coverage against potential  health claims for two former industrial properties in Camden.

But port authority CEO John Matheussen said Tuesday the meeting has been postponed.  New Pa. Gov. John Corbett had requested time in order to make appointments to the agency.

With a deadline looming sometime in March, according to Matheussen, the authority will probably have to make a decision at its next meeting on March 2.

But an assemblyman from New Jersey has made it clear: He wants the authority out of the business of paying insurance on buildings it does not own.

Domenick DiCicco Jr., (R-4), Franklin Township, introduced a proposal that would mandate the agency no longer pay insurance on

the buildings – owned by Victor Urban Renewal Inc. – which were redeveloped into housing units by Philadelphia developer Carl Dranoff, the head of Victor Urban.

Over the course of a decade the bi-state authority has paid approximately $328,000 in insurance. The authority has to decide whether to approve spending from $80,000 to $200,000 on insurance going forward.

“I cannot understand why the board needs several meetings to decide whether it can allow the expiration of an insurance policy on privately-owned buildings that have no connection to the mission of the agency,’’ DiCicco said in a release.

DiCicco had introduced legislation last fall that would enact other reforms at the port authority, including prohibitions against spending public funds on economic development, and against using public funds for non-profit grants.

But according to Matheussen, a change in the law in 1992 transformed the port authority’s mission from being solely a transportation agency into that of a transportation and economic development agency.

Then in 1995 a redevelopment of the Camden waterfront and the former RCA Victor site was undertaken by the port authority and other agencies. As a result, the port authority has been contractually obligated for the insurance, Matheussen explained.

However, the authority in 2008 voted to exclude toll-increase proceeds from economic development, and Matheussen said the authority board has been re-examining how to extricate itself from those insurance promises made in 2000-01.

And that would coincide with what DiCicco feels should have been the situation all along.

“People need relief from wasteful government spending today, not next year,” DiCicco said. “This episode demonstrates again why we need comprehensive reform that would end this sort of nonsense immediately as well as the posturing by DRPA ‘leaders’ who try to invent reasons not to act in the public interest.”

Dranoff, the developer, could not be reached late Tuesday afternoon for comment on the issue.

Port Authority insurance decision postponed