By Christopher anderson
WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court has ordered Maryland to providelong- term space in the Port of Baltimore to a former naval hospital shipthat will be a floating residential drug rehabilitation treatmentfacility for about 300 women.
The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court thatstate officials violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when theyrefused to negotiate a long-term lease at the North Locust Point pierswith Project Life.
The non-profit organization plans to operate the ship, Sanctuary, as a rehabilitation facility. But without a long-term lease and a permanentmooring, Project Life argued it would be unable to secure the funding forits operations aboard the Sanctuary.
A spokeswoman for the Maryland Port Administration, which oversees the port, said Project Life has “admirable goals” but that the docks are notthe place for a drug rehabilitation program.
“We don’t feel that carrying out the project in an active marineterminal is appropriate,” said Judy Scioli, the spokeswoman. “It doesn’tfit in with what we’re legally charged to do. That’s always been ourproblem.
“We don’t provide the service they are seeking, which is a long termberth for a residential ship in a working marine terminal,” she said.
But a three-judge panel of the appellate court disagreed.
“The MPA does provide long-term lay berths . . . on terms nearlyidentical to those sought by Project Life,” the court ruled.
It also said that, in an apparent response to two local legislatorswho opposed the project, “the MPA required Project Life to obtain thesupport of the surrounding community as a condition of obtaining alease.”
“Such a requirement had never been imposed on any other potentialtenant at North Locust Point,” the court said.
State Sen. George Della and Delegate Brian McHale, both Baltimore Democrats, testified against a long-term lease for Project Life at theNorth Locust Point piers, preferring instead to have the port used forcargo.
“I’m certainly not against drug treatment,” Della said. But, he added,”We are in dire need of active space in our terminal, which translatesinto real jobs.
“All of this time and effort could have been put into finding aland-based site, which could have accomplished the same goal and servedthe same need without disrupting a very vital industry here in the port,”Della said.
But Carl Stearn, who sits on Project Life’s board of directors, notedthat the pier where the Sanctuary is currently docked “hasn’t been usedfor 20 years, and, as they testified, the state has no plans to use it inthe future.”
The Sanctuary is currently moored at Pier 6 at North Locust Point.Project Life has a five-year lease that is secured with the portadministration under a 2001 federal district court ruling, which wasupheld by the appeals court Wednesday.
The program has not begun providing rehabilitation services, accordingto its attorney, Betty Jo Christian.
“They have really been handicapped in fund raising. I think the 4th circuit court’s decision is going to go a long way to help them in fund raising,” Christian said.
“Obviously, there is an enormous need in Baltimore and throughoutMaryland for this type of service.”