INSIDE TALK ON SHIPPING

INSIDE TALK ON SHIPPING

WE HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR but fear itself.

That's what people at the Port of Philadelphia kept telling themselves over the last couple of weeks.Rumors were circulating that Holt Cargo Systems Inc., Philly's largest stevedore, was going to bid to operate the Port of Baltimore's new Seagirt Marine Terminal. Seagirt is a $250 million intermodal facility that the Maryland Port Administration hopes will send its port to the top of the charts again. So far it's only caused headaches for the port and chuckles among its competitors.

The idea of Holt going to work for a direct competitor, however, sent chills down the spines of Philadelphia port officials. With Holt serving two masters, efforts to draw new business to Philadelphia could suffer, port officials believed.

But it looks like Holt was just playing chicken with Philadelphia. The stevedore is trying to renegotiate its lease with the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (the successor of the Philadelphia Port Corp.) Talking about Seagirt was seen as an attempt to get the port to make some concessions, port officials believe.

According to my Journal of Commerce colleague Bill DiBenedetto, Holt showed up for briefings on Seagirt bidding, but failed to make a final bid.

* * * * *

GAMES OF CHICKEN are on in Virginia as well.

There, though, the players are the Virginia Port Authority - which controls the state port facilities at the Port of Hampton Roads - and the Richmond Port Commission, which controls a smaller port about 80 miles upriver. People there think the feud between the two might come to a head soon.

Richmond wants about $6 million in state money for a dockwall project it has its heart set on. The state port authority, while conceding that the port is entitled to the money, is suggesting that it might be better spent on other projects at the little port.

Consultants have been enlisted as hired guns in the war. The Virginia Port Authority has contracted the prestigious consulting firm of Temple, Barker & Sloane Inc., Lexington, Mass., to survey Richmond and see if there are more pressing needs there than a new dockwall.

Richmond countered that move by hiring the state's Democratic Party chairman, Paul Goldman, as its consultant. Mr. Goldman is a confidant of Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder.

Richmond hopes Mr. Goldman's influence might lead to some changes in the state agency's attitude. Richmond also has called in professors from a local university to make their own analysis of the port. Most believe the scholars will come up with something different from Temple, Barker & Sloane.

* * * * *

RESULTS OF BOTH the Richmond and the Virginia Port Authority efforts are expected to be out soon.

On May 15 the Port of Richmond is scheduled to make a pitch to the board of the Virginia Port Authority about its dockwall project. The state board meets the next week, and the dockwall is expected to be on the agenda.

Businesses in the Virginia area are hoping the funding squabble ends soon. No one wants to offend either port because of the possible effects taking sides could have on future business operations. So businesses and organizations find themselves walking a tightrope between the two.

That is becoming more difficult given Richmond's all-out public relations effort to win supporters for its cause. The port is going to various companies and business groups and asking them to endorse its position.

"We just want to be like Switzerland in this thing," said one businessman who uses the port.