Williams Bill Would Add Legislative Appointees to Diamond State Port Board

DOVER – The General Assembly would have more of a say in the future of one of Delaware’s largest assets under legislation Rep. Dennis E. Williams filed Tuesday.

House Bill 231 would expand the Diamond State Port Corporation Board – which controls the Port of Wilmington – from 15 members to 21 and allow the Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tempore to appoint the six additional members.

“The Port of Wilmington is a major, major asset to the state of Delaware. It’s the largest North American seaport for imports of fresh fruit and bananas and imports and exports more than 5 million tons or cargo each year,” said Rep. Williams, D-Talleyville. “Last year, there was talk of privatizing the port, which would have cost our state good-paying jobs at the port and hurt other businesses that rely on the port.”

Currently, five members of the port board are cabinet-level members of the governor’s administration, while an additional seven are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The remaining three are the co-chairs of the legislative Joint Bond Bill Committee and the controller general, a legislative employee.

In response to the privatization discussions, lawmakers passed a bill last year allowing the General Assembly to approve or reject any proposal to transfer, privatize or lease all or substantially all of the port.

Since last year, the Port of Wilmington has seen a flurry of activity and support. The Joint Bond Bill, which Rep. Williams serves on, committed to investing $38 million over four years to help the port purchase two cranes, while Delaware Economic Development Office transferred an additional $10 million to the port. Last month, Dole Food Company, the port’s largest customer, signed a 15-year lease with the port. Also last year, Fresh Fruit Maroc signed a five-year deal with the port.

Founded in 1923, the Port of Wilmington handles about 400 vessels annually and is the busiest terminal on the Delaware River.

HB 231, which has 11 House co-sponsors and three Senate sponsors, has been assigned to the House Administration Committee.