Hospital ship plan OK'd by council

Sanctuary owners eligible for lease in port of Baltimore

April 15, 1999|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

An advisory council gave the Maryland Port Administration a green light yesterday to negotiate a lease with the owners of the former Navy hospital ship the Sanctuary, lifting a major hurdle to a planned shipboard program for recovering female drug addicts.

The council, formed last year to advise the port administration on how to best use its vacant properties, voted 9-1 that the Sanctuary's program was "compatible" with the business of the port of Baltimore, as long as it could be operated safely and it complied with city zoning laws.

The vote is the latest wrinkle in the Sanctuary's six-year saga at the port -- a contentious history that culminated last year when a lawsuit was filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act to force the state to provide the project a long-term berth.

Board members of Project Life, the nonprofit corporation that owns the eight-story, 14,000-ton ship, want to start a program that would house up to 300 newly drug-free women a month, teaching them to get jobs, care for their families and manage expenses as they try to rebuild their lives.

But port officials and local lawmakers have balked, saying the project has no place amid the large cranes and trucks of a working port terminal. The Sanctuary has a month-to-month berth at North Locust Point Marine Terminal, a site port operations director Gene Bailey says is needed for existing tenants to expand.

"All we want to do is negotiate a lease with the port administration," Andrew D. Levy, the lawyer who represents Project Life in the lawsuit, said after the vote. "That's what we wanted to do a year ago."

As their vote kept the project's hopes afloat, several council members expressed skepticism that the Sanctuary would succeed.

Council member James Pomfret suggested that Project Life -- which has spent nearly all its government and private grant money while waiting for a berth -- might want to rethink housing addicts on the ship and lease a building instead.

"If I were sitting on your board, I would say to you, `Does it make sense to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain that boat?' " Pomfret said.

The council's lone dissenter, Horace T. Alston, president of Baltimore District Council of the International Longshoreman Association, said he did not believe the Sanctuary belonged on any working port terminal.

While approving the Sanctuary's use, council members included in their recommendation language urging Project Life to find the ship a private berth.

Port officials said they're willing to talk about three long-vacant sites for the ship: a more isolated berth at North Locust Point; a pier off Childs Street in the Fairfield area, where the Sanctuary once was docked; and a pier off Clinton Street in East Baltimore. All of those sites, however, would require expensive modifications to handle the Sanctuary's clients and staff.

Project Life has 90 days to tell the port which pier it prefers.

A lease, if negotiated, would have to be approved by the Maryland Port Commission and the state's Board of Public Works.

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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