A Deepening Concern

Maya K. van Rossum and the Delaware Riverkeeper network released a 48-page, 3-part, study this past March entitled, “Delaware River Deepening — Dumped Again”. It’s a ‘must’ read.

We’ve been treating this ongoing dredging dispute as a backyard brawl between the governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. When, and if, one takes the time to read the above-mentioned study, however, little doubt will remain that the dredging project espoused by the governor of Pennsylvania and supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is neither viable or justifiable.

We mentioned this study in earlier commentaries, and also took note of an aggressive statement made by Ms. van Rossum. “Anytime someone has taken a truly objective look or review of this project,” she said, “in every instance they come out against it. That’s why I can tell you that those who are supporting this project either don’t know what they’re talking about or they are lying.”

Now that’s a pretty strong statement and a challenge we just had to accept. It was like the old days when someone would tell us to “Put up, or shut up!”, or “Put your money where your mouth is!” There was no alternative. We had to read the study. We found that the first of the three parts was an overview, the second covered economic issues, and the third addressed environmental issues. These sections submit proof that the Corps of Engineers:

• failed to demonstrate how dredging would improve the region economically;
• failed to demonstrate how dredging would make Philadelphia more competitive with major shipping ports;
• has submitted no viable plan to document, discuss or represent the environmental ramifications of soil disposal;
• and has failed to discern, or represent, the actual costs of transporting the dredged soil to approved outlying regions.

To make matters worse for proponents, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has already found the project to be unjustified. In reviewing the Corps’ cost estimates, the GAO stated:

• “The Corps’ analysis of project benefits contained or was based on miscalculations, invalid assumptions, and outdated information.”
• “We determined that the net effect of the miscalculations, invalid assumptions, and outdated information on the Corps’ $ 40.1 million annual project benefit estimate … was a reduction in the estimated annual project benefits to about $ 13.3 million (in 1996 dollars).”

According to the Corps of Engineers’ own calculations and admissions, the GAO stated, the Delaware dredging project is not a viable project for federal funding because the assumptions it made regarding the costs of the project have turned out to be totally inaccurate. Under the current situation, even by its own admission, the cost benefit ratio for the project is only at 76 cents to 82 cents of benefit for every dollar invested.

But wait … there’s more.

An economic review of the Corps’ 1998 analysis conducted by the State of Delaware found numerous issues the Corps had not addressed or had improperly addressed in one version of their project ‘economic justification’, including:

• “NED benefits from the project likely are much overstated because an overly optimistic growth rate was assumed from crude oil deliveries …”
• “Cost savings are overstated, since many vessels (even those recently purchased) do not require deeper drafts.”
• “Benefits to steel and scrap metal shipments likely are overstated.”
• “Costs of dredging and (perhaps) of disposal appear to be understated.”
• “The USACE does not appear to include the cost of monitoring (and possible mitigation) in estimate of NED benefits.”

And more …

The Corps made varying economic claims regarding the benefits of the project with every analysis confirming that the majority of the benefits accrue to select oil companies. Despite the asserted economic benefit none of the oil companies have committed the needed financial support to the project and none have even committed to invest the needed financial resources and infrastructure upgrades needed to take advantage of this supposed benefit. In one instance, one oil company is on record as saying that the project would in fact hurt them economically, and another has made it clear that the project poses no benefits to their operations or business.

And more …

Many potential beneficiaries of the dredging project are non-U.S. consumers and firms. Although European consumers are included in the Corps’ economic analysis, benefits are portrayed as accruing entirely to U.S. consumers. This deceptive practice was recognized by the GAO in its review.

“It is uncertain whether all of the potential benefits of a 45-foot channel would contribute to national economic development because most of the ships coming into Delaware River ports are foreign-owned. The Corps’ analysis did not take into account the distribution of project benefits between U.S. and foreign interests.” (GAO-02-604, June 2002, pg. 15)

And more …

— The dredging project is not likely to create new, permanent jobs, according to the Army Corps. The project is not projected to result in induced tonnage, it will not result in increased oil up the River, and it will adversely impact some businesses such Maritrans and Motiva. “No induced tonnage from the project improvement is projected.”, the Corps admitted.

— Nor is the project guaranteed to create temporary construction jobs for the local population. The project, in fact, is required by federal law to go out for national bids on all of its projects.

— The Delaware River Ports are not likely to attract the deep-draft mega-container vessels. The mega-container ship owners/operators require large proprietary terminals that the Delaware ports cannot provide.

— A channel depth of 45′ is not enough to satisfy the demands and needs of the mega-ships. As reported in the Journal of Commerce, “Ports that do not have channel depths in excess of 45′, and those without the financial resources to provide adequate road, rail and terminal infrastructure, will be relegated to feeder port status.”

— Terminals servicing mega-ships need to be located near shipping lanes, not 108 miles from the sea, as is the case with terminals in the Philadelphia region. An APL official, quoted by the Journal of Commerce, has already made it clear that, “A key item on the list is geographical location. A regional transshipment port must be positioned for minimal deviation from the trade lane it serves. It must be in proximity to secondary ports along the route. For example, it should not require sailing upriver or up a lengthy coastline away from the main routes.”

And still more …

Along with the shortcomings previously noted, the Army Corps has no viable, environmentally or economically assessed disposal plan for the deepening project. So, while the Corps continues to assert that there are no environmental impacts of concern associated with disposal sites, it simply is not the case. The reality is that they cannot make any claims regarding environmental threats because they do not have a viable plan. The environmental and community threats associated with deepening the Delaware River’s main navigation channel are well-documented and varied. The concerns raised are not those of an uneducated few, as project supporters unfairly suggest, they are significant questions raised by data, by experts and by regulatory representatives.

The Army Corps continues to press for the deepening project despite the fact that they no longer have any viable dredge disposal plan and therefore cannot document, discuss or represent the environmental ramifications of needed soil disposal. This is no small matter when one considers that the project will generate 26,012,000 cubic yards of spoils with the initial deepening including approximately 77,000 cubic yards of rock, as well as an increase in annual maintenance spoils of 862,000 cubic yards per year, bringing the total to 4,317,000 cubic yards per year for disposal (up from the current 3,455,000 cubic yards per year).

There continues to be significant and varied toxic threats posed by the Delaware deepening project — specifically the introduction and reintroduction of heavy metals, pesticides and other toxins into the river, water supplies, food chain and/or wildlife.

The Delaware deepening project threatens irreparable harm to a variety species of fish, shellfish and wildlife including ecologically and economically important species such as horseshoe crabs, oysters, Shortnose Sturgeon, sportfish, Red Knot rufa, Peregrine Falcon and Bald Eagle. The implications of channel deepening for exacerbating the harms threatened by sea level rise are growing as more information is learned and released. And in the wake of the recent Athos I oil spill the reality that the dredging project may increase the risk of harm from such catastrophes is a sobering concern.

The breadth of environmental threats posed by this project has played a major role in preventing its forward movement. Needed permits and approvals from the States of Delaware and New Jersey have yet to be granted, a testament to the environmental failings of the project.

Because of the following critical environmental issues this project cannot be allowed to move forward. When these environmental concerns are coupled with the economic shortcomings of the project there is no foundation for funding, approval or construction of the Delaware River Deepening Project.

1. Unknown disposal plan means unknown environmental impacts.
2. Dredge soil disposal raises toxic threats.
3. Dredging threatens the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon.
4. Dredging threatens horseshoe crabs, oysters and migratory birds shorebirds already on the brink of extinction.
5. Dredging threatens Sabellaria vulgaris and the fish dependent upon them for food, shelter, spawning and nursery habitat.
6. Dredging threatens a variety of fish species.
7. A deeper channel increases the risk that serious spills will occur during normal shipping operations.
8. Dredging and sea level rise could threaten drinking water supplies, flooding, erosion and even more.
9. As a result of unaddressed environmental issues, the Army Corps has not been able to obtain all of the necessary permits and concurrences that will be required before this project can be commenced.

The threats, challenges, questions and concerns regarding this project have been raised by agencies and experts throughout the region. Agencies have pulled back approvals, issued damning reports and denied issuance of needed permits as the result of the growing body of evidence that the harms this project poses to our environment and region are simply too great for the Delaware River and surrounding communities to sustain.

Maritime “experts”, however, have no regard for the Delaware River and those residing in its surrounding communities. Immediately following the release of the above-mentioned 3-part study the Maritime Stakeholders Group from the Port of Philadelphia held a news conference to announce plans for a major development in Philadelphia to build a containership facility.

Unsubstantiated predictions that the proposed “3,500,000 TEU”-sized container terminal operations would “bring an additional100,000 jobs back to the city” were presented to those in attendance, including hopeful representatives of the Ports of the Delaware River Marine Trade Association, the International Longshoremen’s Association, as well as a multitude of trade and business associations. That attentive audience was being misled. But that’s what maritime “experts” are prone to do.

[Look again at Ms. van Rossum’s challenge: “Anytime someone has taken a truly objective look or review of this project, in every instance they come out against it. That’s why I can tell you that those who are supporting this project either don’t know what they’re talking about or they are lying.”]