A Sinking Curve Ball ( A reprint of Vol. XI, Art. 22 – May 19, 2007)

“This historic agreement will allow for increased commercial shipping traffic, investment and development in our region,” Pennsylvania’s Governor Rendell said. “I believe nothing is more important to the future of the Ports of Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey and Delaware than this project.”

Yesterday’s agreement came about after a 17-month dispute between Governor Rendell and New Jersey’s Governor Corzine, ending a standoff over the Delaware River Deepening project. The deal, officially and unanimously approved by the Delaware River Port Authority, moved sponsorship of the project from the DRPA to the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.

Governor Rendell enthusiastically stated that the agreement would make the port “the fastest-growing and most economically charged” on the East Coast, and there’s no denying that he’s firmly convinced of that.

After yesterday’s announcement we overheard a bystander recalling that he heard that Governor Rendell could have had a measure of success as a professional baseball player, but he couldn’t hit the curve ball. But so what, we thought … very few of us could. In his case though, his advisors are still throwing curve balls at him, and in his untiring efforts to bring success to the citizens of the port regions, he’s unknowingly being misled by self-serving individuals who care nothing for those communities, or for the Governor himself for that matter.

The Governor has shown that he’ll go all out to create employment opportunities for as many folks as he possibly can. It’s his ‘hot button’, and everyone is aware of it. It’s the kind of attitude that wins elections, but it’s also an Achilles’ Heel. The Governor was set up by advisers to chase another curve ball, and although some will benefit by yesterday’s agreement, most will not. Putting emphasis, for example, on a program that hinges upon a time-consuming $ 1 billion dredging project, is no way to create 100,000 needed jobs, and unless he’s made aware of this and is able to execute a timely about face, some precious time will be thrown away and his own political future could be in jeopardy.

Voters have long memories. In a letter to the editor appearing in one of the region’s leading newspapers, the writer noted that 10 years ago the cost for the Delaware River Deepening project was estimated to be $ 300 million. The estimate now being provided to the Governor by his trusted advisors, however, is $ 118 million. The writer of that letter went on to surmise that the cost is “more like $ 1 billion by now and the taxpayers will be footing the bill. As for losing business on the river,” the writer went on, “I submit for everyone’s review, these few little tidbits …

“Feb. 1, 2006. The South Jersey Corp. Tuesday posted record tonnages and earnings for 2005. Total cargoes, including imports and exports, reached 3.6 million tons in 2005, a 3.5 percent hike over last year. Revenues increased to $ 23.6 million from $ 21.5 million, with net earnings rising to $ 3.7 million from $ 3.4 million.

“August 19, 2006. Record plywood shipments are part of the reason the Camden port is on pace to break a record for cargo this year, according to Joseph A. Balzano, executive director. Last year, the port received cargo totaling 3.5 million tons. Wood products coming into the port from January through July increased more than 20 percent over the same period last year, he said.

“March 4, 2007. South Jersey Port Corporation announced that 2006 ended with a 9 percent increase in cargo, despite a downturn in the building industry. In 2006, 35 tenants handled 3.8 million tons of cargo. There were 447 ship calls and a 17 percent jump in the number of employment hours for dockworkers …

“Governor Corzine, please start paying attention,” the writer concluded.

The astute writer of that letter can be assured that Governor Corzine is indeed paying attention. Corzine’s strategy was politically sound and will prove to be well thought out. He gave up nothing, and he made it clear in his statement that his position on dredging had not changed. He said “I still have serious environmental and economic concerns about the wisdom and propriety of dredging. This agreement will allow the DRPA board to resume meeting,” he stated.

In an attempt to pressure opponents, you’ll recall, Governor Rendell had refused to call board meetings, and millions of dollars in capital projects were held up because of this ill-advised tactic.
Governor Rendell’s advisors should have been telling him instead that:

– dredging an 800′ wide channel does not allow for safe passing or for emergency mid-channel turnarounds;
– five feet of sludge dredged from a channel more than 100 miles in length, and having a more reasonable width of 1,320 feet, would require a disposal area of about 85,000 acres. This volume of sludge and slime is enough to cover an area equal in size to the19,000 acre Island of Manhattan to a depth of approximately four-and-a- half feet;
– the cost to transport this volume of spoil to widely scattered Pennsylvania communities would exceed the cost of dredging operations;
– neither the 135-foot Benjamin Franklin Bridge nor the 150-foot Walt Whitman Bridge will permit passage of the type of megaship that the project’s imaginative supporters envision;
– the cost to replace each of these bridges, according to noted bridge designers, would be well in excess of $ 1 billion, and any attempt to do so, they added, “wouldn’t be feasible”;
– an APL official has publicly stated that terminals servicing megaships need to be located near shipping lanes, not 100 miles from the sea, as is the case with terminals in Philadelphia.

There’s nothing complicated about this issue, and if ‘maritime consultants’ have been engaged by proponents of the Delaware River Deepening project and have failed to present these negative aspects of dredging operations, then the misled proponents should ask for a refund.

Two disasters are imminent:
1. Dredging enthusiasts will negate the needed 100,000 jobs;
2. Dredging enthusiasts could cost Governor Rendell the next election.