Another backyard brawl!

In 1992, in order to accommodate larger ships, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Delaware River Authority proposed a $ 311 million dredging project. The intent is to deepen the Delaware River from 40 to 45 feet along a 108-mile channel extending from the Philadelphia/Camden area to the Atlantic Ocean. The project was supported by a supplemental study issued in 2004 by the Corps.

15 years ago, $ 311 million was a pretty good buy, but in today’s market, $ 311 million doesn’t cut the mustard. Dredging that 108-mile channel will cost three times that much. [Check out Boston’s ‘Big Dig’!] But that really isn’t the issue. The real issue is that the pie is a whole lot bigger now than it used to be, and that there are a lot more slices to go around.

Along with most everyone else, we could see that the NY/NJ port complex would sooner than later hit a brick wall. It was obvious that the 19,000,000 TEUs projected for that complex would require another 15,000 acres. In NY/NJ surroundings? What were they drinking .. er, thinking?

It was easy to see that this increasing volume of TEUs would be directed gradually and steadily away from the NY/NJ complex and toward other East Coast ports. The Delaware River became the perfect alternative. A newly-dredged 108-mile channel to the Port of Philadelphia would serve as an ideal avenue for the transport of a lion’s share of the forthcoming TEU pie. Philadelphia officials showed admirable foresight in this matter and thereupon endorsed the dredging project.

But on March 6th of this year, the National Wildlife Federation and the Bristol-based Delaware Riverkeeper Network released three reports challenging that 15-year-old dredging proposal. The first report is an overview, the second covers economic issues, and the third addresses environmental issues. In these reports the groups argue that the Army Corps of Engineers:
• has failed to demonstrate how deepening the channel would improve the region economically;
• has failed to demonstrate how deepening the channel would make Philadelphia more competitive with other major shipping ports;
• has submitted no viable plan to document, discuss or represent the environmental ramifications of soil disposal or the cost implications.

The Riverkeeper Network stressed the environmental hazards that the project would create. The Delaware River provides; access to major East Coast ports; drinking water to more than 15 million people; support for recreation and ecotourism; and food, water and habitat to various fish, wildlife and plants. A spokesperson for Riverkeeper Network had the good sense to say, “Our ports may want help to grow and to continue their prosperous move forward, [but] they cannot expect to do that on the backs of the rest of the community. We need to be investing our limited resources in port projects that make sense and will truly make a difference, not in projects that fail to enhance the port while at the same time harm the rest of our river communities.” Good advice!

Now let’s look at a sensible way to “invest … our limited resources” in order to “enhance the port”.