The South Jersey Port Corp.'s board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday to hire a consultant to estimate the cost of converting the first floor of a largely unused building at the Broadway Terminal into a methadone clinic that could serve more than 600 heroin addicts a day, seven days a week.

Based on the numbers, the Department of the Treasury, not the port corporation, "will determine if the project is to proceed through design and construction," based on a resolution passed by the board.

All costs, including a consulting fee not to exceed $25,000, will be reimbursed by the state, according to the resolution.

"My opinion doesn't count, because it appears to be out of my control," said Richard Alaimo, chairman of the port agency's board.

The board's vote came after impassioned pleas from residents and port workers who described the existing clinic in the 400 block of Broadway as an open-air drug market that breeds prostitution and violent crime. The clinic, Parkside Recovery, is owned by NHS, a private nonprofit based in Lafayette Hill, Pa. It services about 650 drug addicts, six days a week in a windowless brick building at 413-417 Broadway.

Father Gerard Marable, a Roman Catholic priest from Bergen Square, reminded the board that they had begun their regular Tuesday meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance.

"Where is the justice and liberty for all that you pledged when you consider this community already has toxic land, air, water and now this?" he said. "Look deep into yourselves and tell me how the port will benefit from this? When will you stand up for the community, instead of playing politics and power plays?"

The action comes after more than a year of Waterfront South residents rallying against a proposal to relocate a methadone clinic from downtown Camden into their neighborhood.

Cooper Hospital is seeking the clinic's current location so the hospital replace it with a health-care complex.

Darryl Potter, president of International Federation of Professional Technical engineers, Local 18, which represents about 50 port workers, said he was concerned about the safety of his colleagues.

"I would ask you not to jeopardize them," he said.

No board members responded.

Helene Pierson, executive director of the Heart of Camden, a community advocacy group, called the board's decision to move forward and to allow the state to decide, "the most transparent case of political puppetry I've ever seen."

"By siting the clinic in a port, it does not have to go through the municipal zoning process. And now it appears the board is abrogating its responsibility."

Pierson claims the port would be violating its own charter by taking on a clinic because the port is supposed to lease space only to tenants involved in waterborne activities. She also objected to bringing hundreds of drug addicts a day into an international port that is supposed to have a high level of security.

Waterfront South families are struggling to enhance their neighborhood, but are stopped at every turn by poor and prejudicial planning, she said.

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