PHILADELPHIA LEGISLATORS APPEAL
CITY RIPARIAN RIGHTS DECISION
December 26, 2007 – State Senator Vince Fumo, state Representative Mike
O’Brien (both D-Philadelphia) and other state legislators from Philadelphia
filed an appeal in the State Supreme Court today, challenging the city’s grant
of riparian rights to the proposed Sugarhouse Casino.
The group of seven lawmakers, who represent all of the
House and Senate Districts along the Delaware River waterfront in Philadelphia,
contend that the submerged lands beyond the river’s waterline that are part of
the casino’s development plan belong to Commonwealth of Pennsylvania taxpayers.
The city has no legal authority to turn them over to a private party.
Fumo and O’Brien, whose districts contain the
development site, were joined as petitioners by Democratic Senator Mike Stack,
Democratic House members William Keller, Michael McGeehan and Robert Donatucci,
and Republican House member John Taylor.
“The state owns that land. Historically and legally, it
has been the sole prerogative of the state General Assembly to lease, sell or
otherwise authorize the use of riparian land,” Fumo said. “This is not about
casinos as much as it is about the city trying to usurp state authority. The
city’s decision, if allowed to stand, would deprive commonwealth taxpayers of
money that is rightfully theirs, and would deprive the General Assembly of its
right to set terms and conditions for use of its waterfront property.”
O’Brien said the city’s action would create a terrible
precedent for all types of future riverfront development in the city.
“This is a clear affront to the General Assembly. That
is one reason we have a united front in submitting this appeal by all Senate and
House members from both political parties whose districts abut the river,”
O’Brien said. “This is beyond just a casino issue. It goes to the question of
the state’s legal control of its own land, land which is held in trust on behalf
of the public.”
Relying on a 1907 state law that has since been
superceded by other state statutes, HSP Gaming announced in October that it was
seeking city authorization to build on the 12 acres of submerged land that make
up slightly more than half of its proposed Sugarhouse development location.
Fumo and O’Brien both testified at a City Commerce
Department hearing on November 15, arguing against the move. Fumo stated as part
of his testimony that city approval of a riparian rights would further delay the
project because it would instigate additional litigation. Nonetheless, the City
Commerce Department authorized Sugarhouse’s use of the submerged lands on
The Philadelphia waterfront state legislators said they
would ask incoming mayor Michael Nutter to revisit the issue after he takes
office next month.
As Fumo pointed out at the November 15 hearing, the
appeal submitted to the Supreme Court today argues that the state and not the
city possesses sole and exclusive authority to authorize use of riparian lands,
and that under a 1978 state law, such use cannot be granted without the
“specific authority from the General Assembly.” City licensing authority under
the 1907 law applies only to docks, wharfs and other similar harbor structures,
which plainly does not include casinos.
The city has no right under law to convey title,
easement, right of way or any other interest in the property to HSP.
The legislators stressed that while the project in
question is a casino, the larger issue is the public’s interest in controlling
the riverfront. Were the city’s decision left uncontested, any developer who was
unsuccessful in obtaining legislative authority or who was displeased with the
terms and conditions imposed by the state, could petition the city for a more
The appeal states: “The consequences of such an outcome
would be to invite developers along the Delaware River to obtain an interest in
state lands in a manner not supported or otherwise authorized by the General
Assembly, thus depriving the Commonwealth of any revenue in exchange for the
encroachment, development and occupation of state lands.
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To read the full petition submitted to the court, click