Reviewing the Delaware River squabble … (from our Vol. VI, Art. 11 commentary)

Reviewing the Delaware River squabble … (from our Vol. VI, Art. 11 commentary)

Vol. XI, Art. 6

Just when we thought the pros on the Atlantic Seaboard were wising up, an uncharacteristic family feud erupted. Almost without exception, port directors from Florida to Halifax took heed of the overwhelming numbers of containers predicted to be headed in the direction of the Port of NY/NJ in the coming decades, and these officials smartly reacted. In Art. 7 of this volume, we commented on recent announcements issuing from officials in North Carolina, Virginia and from the Delaware River Port Authority, outlining the steps being taken to prepare alternative destinations for the anticipated NY/NJ overflow. The business sense being shown by the easterners, we noted, is a far cry from the obstinacy being exhibited by their opposite numbers, especially in LA/Long Beach, and we said as much.

Just as there are exceptions to this generalization among West Coast authorities, however, (e.g. Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma),there are likewise exceptions among East Coast port officials. This “uncharacteristic family-feud” has all the appearances of a Hatfield and McCoy encounter and it involves long-time partners in the Delaware River Port Authority. Some 15 years ago a dredging dispute had its subtle beginnings, but a full-fledged skirmish is now developing since advocates on the Pennsylvania side have determined that river depth must be increased from 40 to 45 feet to attract megaships.

Officials on the New Jersey side aren’t buying it, though, and they’re not sitting by idly. They’ve announced a $ 5 billion waterfront development plan for Camden, Gloucester and Salem Counties that they say would eliminate any need to dredge. They’re moving ahead because a GAO investigation requested by members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation, which opposes Delaware River dredging, found that deepening the channel would return only 46 cents in economic benefit for every taxpayer dollar spent over 50 years, contradicting the earlier prediction of $ 1.40 put forth earlier by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Pennsylvania’s Governor Rendell, the chairman of the authority’s board, a strong supporter of dredging, has threatened to shut down the bistate port authority which runs four toll bridges and the PATCO High-Speed Line. The governor has frozen the authority’s budget and cancelled the last two monthly meetings, but shutting down a transportation system may be a bit more of a problem. He has supporters but he also has some very strong and influential opposition. Union leaders, port officials and politicians are all becoming embroiled in this set-to… with the customary name-calling.

Maya van Rossum, the leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, a nonprofit environmental group, said the deepening proposal had been properly assailed because of environmental concerns and the increasing project costs. “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.”

[Want some advice everyone? Read tomorrow’s commentary.]