Sen. Vincent J. Fumo

District Office

1208 Tasker Street
Phila, PA 19148

Harrisburg Office

545 Main Capitol
Hbg, PA 17120



_____________________NEWS RELEASE

State Senators

1st Senatorial District                                             5th Senatorial District
Room 545 Main Capitol, Hbg. PA 17120              Room 543 Main Capitol, Hbg., PA 17120 

State Representatives
184th House District                                                175th House District
Room  123-A Capitol East Wing, Hbg., PA 17120   Room 224 Irvis Building, Hbg., PA 17120



PHONE: 717-787-5662 
PHONE: 717-787-9608
MARY ISAACSON (Keller, O'Brien)
PHONE: 215-503-3245


            PHILADELPHIA, August 25, 2008 – A coalition of state Senate and House members who represent districts along the Delaware River in Philadelphia sharply criticized last week’s Supreme Court decision giving away riparian rights, and said today that they would urge the legislature to restore state control over state land.

            They also promised to seek federal court review.

            Representatives William Keller and Mike O’Brien, along with Senators Vince Fumo and Mike Stack (all D-Philadelphia) called Friday’s high court ruling dramatic and unprecedented. Not only did it convey public land to a casino without any payment to the state taxpayers who own it, but it also declared the conveyance irrevocable.

            “With all due respect to the court, they simply got this one wrong,” said Keller.  He pointed out that it has been long-established legal practice for the state General Assembly to decide whether or not to approve the lease of submerged waterfront land, which the state owns, to private entities. The state is also entitled to compensation.

            “These lands are held in trust as dictated by the state constitution, and the legislative branch has the authority to manage assets of the commonwealth.  The judicial branch obviously overstepped its bounds in this case,” O’Brien said.

            The court ruled, 4-2, that the City of Philadelphia was permitted to grant riparian rights to the proposed Sugarhouse casino development, even though city officials in the Nutter Administration had concluded that they lacked that authority, and had reversed the grant action taken in the final weeks of John Street’s term as mayor.

“The court’s decision represents an affront to the long established authority and prerogative of the legislature to control public lands held in trust for the benefit of all commonwealth residents.  The notion that a casino can acquire public lands, without even paying a single cent to the commonwealth is offensive to both good public policy and common sense,” said Stack.

One of the most troubling aspects of the court’s decision was the claim by the court that the submerged lands license cannot be revoked – thereby granting the casino control over the public lands in perpetuity.  As a consequence, the commonwealth has lost control over all public lands along the city waterfront.  Once granted by the city, it is lost from the public forever, according to the court.

“It is a contradiction to say that the city has the authority vested in it to give the license but not take it away.  If that is really true, then no one has the authority to protect the public interest,” O’Brien said.

"The devastating nature of the court's decision cannot be overstated. The court has effectively created a special "casino class" that is treated differently from all other forms of commercial development along the waterfront.  It is a class that, according to the court, is immune from making payments to the commonwealth for the land, and unlike all other similar conveyances, it is a class that receives a property right to public lands in perpetuity," Fumo said. 

            The lawmakers agree that the decision cries out for federal review.

They also said there are still avenues available to the legislature to ensure that the state maintains control over its submerged property.

            “I expect this issue to assume greater urgency and priority when the legislature returns from its summer recess” said Keller. “This is far from the end.”

            “It is our intention to ensure that any legislation that is considered by the General Assembly addresses this issue in the fall.” echoed Stack. "

            "This fight is far from over," vowed O'Brien.

            Sugarhouse, which was awarded one of the two state slots gambling licenses allocated for Philadelphia, is seeking to build its casino on a site in the Fishtown/Northern Liberties section of the city. Approximately half of its proposed development footprint covers the submerged riverbed owned by the state..

            Lacking the required grant of riparian rights from the state, Sugarhouse asked for and received a license to build from the city, under an outdated 100-year old law.

The decision effectively strips the General Assembly of its exclusive authority to control the public lands along the Philadelphia waterfront.  It also undermines the ability of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) to acquire river front property to meet maritime shipping needs.

As a result of the court's decision, the city is empowered to acquire any state land along the waterfront simply by issuing a "submerged lands license."  As a consequence, the city can effectively block any expansion of the PRPA's harbor facilities by granting such licenses to other entities or refusing such licenses to the PRPA.  The PRPA, a state created regional authority, is placed in the untenable position of being subordinate to the City.

“Long-term effects of the ruling on anticipated port development places the projected creation of 47,000 new jobs in jeopardy,” Keller said.


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