Digging In

Two news articles caught our attention last week. Both had to do with the Delaware River.

The first article told about the five environmental groups that are appealing the January 27th court ruling allowing the dredging of the Delaware River to proceed. Nearly 28 years ago Congress authorized the dredging of the 102-mile ship channel to the Port of Philadelphia by the Corps of Engineers. The project was priced at $ 360 million back in 1991 – or so they say – but misgivings of one sort or another have delayed the project.

The second article came out of Augusta, Maine. A plan to bring the 1,052-foot decommissioned aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy to Portland Harbor as a tourist attraction and museum got support from the Maine House, the report stated.

About two years ago, “Big John” made the 102-mile trip up the Delaware and has been berthed at the port since then. “Big John”, alias USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) – or is it the other way around – is as big as any vessel afloat, and it navigated the river with plenty to spare. So did the “Big U”, the SS United States, now comfortably berthed at Pier 82. And as we noted in an earlier commentary, ” right across the way, in Camden, rests one of the mightiest vessels ever built, the breathtaking USS New Jersey (BB-62)”.

So if these giants could make it up the Delaware, why in the world are so many folks intent upon dredging the ship channel? The reasoning, of course – from those who don’t bother to keep up with current events – is as follows:

– The Panama Canal is being widened to accommodate Postpanamax container ships.
– These giants from Asia will prefer all-water route, using the Canal, to U.S. East Coast ports.
– The Delaware River isn’t deep enough to allow passage of large vessels.
– Terminal operators at the Port of Philadelphia need to be prepared to receive these huge container ships.
– And besides, dredging creates jobs.

But dredging the Delaware would be “building a bridge to nowhere”, because:

– No shipowner would ever allow a giant vessel to travel that far away from a sea buoy.
– There is no demand from buyers in the Philadelphia region for such large volumes of products from overseas – and there never will be.

Furthermore, if the three vessels mentioned above can navigate the Delaware, any container ship could do it – if ever there was a demand.

And finally, those who’ve done their homework know that the Delaware could be dredged for $ 360 million – only if a dredger would do the job for about a dollar per cubic yard!