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Judge dictates terms for ship lease


Bringing a nonprofit group's three-year legal battle to launch a drug recovery program on a former Navy vessel closer to an end, a federal judge has dictated lease terms for the group's berth in the port of Baltimore.

Project Life can keep the Sanctuary, a 14,000-ton former military hospital ship, berthed at Pier 6 at North Locust Point and should pay $2,500 a month in rent, U.S. Judge William M. Nickerson said in an order signed Wednesday.

The Maryland Port Administration had argued that the ship should be moved to a more remote pier that needed extensive renovations, and the group should pay $7,604 in monthly rent. Project Life had said it should pay $1,667.

The dispute was one of several unresolved since a federal jury ruled in the fall that state officials had illegally discriminated against Project Life in its efforts to open the recovery program for drug-addicted women. In December, Nickerson ordered the port to lease a long-term berth to Project Life.

Nickerson stepped in again after the two sides failed to reach agreement on lease terms.

The judge also rejected this week a state motion to reverse the jury's findings. He said trial evidence showed officials had tried to block the project because they didn't want a drug recovery program on the waterfront.

"It is clear from the evidence that the real reason, or at least, one of the most significant reasons for the state's refusal to enter into the lease was the desire of elected officials that the Sanctuary's programs not be located in 'their backyard,'" Nickerson said.

State officials were reviewing the order yesterday and had not decided whether to appeal, said Judi Scioli, a Maryland Port Administration spokeswoman.

Attorneys for Project Life said the decision would bring the group's plan to help drug-addicted women closer to reality.

"The key was to get donors to give to the program," said Reid H. Weingarten, a Washington attorney who represented Project Life. "We needed to know we were on firm legal ground, and this opinion does that."

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