Corps to spend $16.9 million to deepen the Delaware

The Army Corps' hopper dredge , the McFarland, unloads dredged material after doing maintenance dredging in the Delaware near Philadelphia.
The Army Corps' hopper dredge , the McFarland, unloads dredged material after doing maintenance dredging in the Delaware near Philadelphia.
Posted: February 07, 2012

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will allocate $16.9 million this year to deepening, by five feet, the Delaware River's main shipping channel.

The announcement, expected to be published on the Corps' website as early as Tuesday, represents the most significant federal contribution to actual dredging work since the 102-mile channel deepening began.

It's a victory for a bipartisan effort led by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) and joined by other members of Congress in Pennsylvania and Delaware, governors of the two states, and business and labor leaders who wrote letters, made calls, and have lobbied for months.

The money, included in the Corps' 2012 work plan, will be spent to dredge to 45 feet, from 40, a 15-mile stretch of the Delaware between Penns Landing and Essington. The work is scheduled to begin in early August.

"We got good news," said Casey, who has spoken about the issue with President Obama and Vice President Biden. "One of the things we have been waiting for is the announcement about the Army Corps work plan for 2012.

"We also are awaiting the president's budget for 2013. If we get good news on both, that would be significant."

Obama's fiscal year 2013 budget is scheduled to be submitted to Congress on Monday.

Pennsylvania, as the local project sponsor, has spent about $40 million on deepening work. The federal government, which is supposed to pay two-thirds of the total $300 million cost, has spent about $4 million on actual dredging.

Digging the river channel five feet deeper has been debated for nearly three decades and is opposed by some environmental groups and the State of New Jersey.

Opponents say the project puts at risk critical ecosystems, including oyster beds and horseshoe crabs, as well as communities that depend on the river for food, recreation, storm protection, and drinking water.

A recent analysis by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Taxpayers for Common Sense and others said the deepening would return a benefit-cost ratio of, at most, $1.10 for every $1 spent. Opponents say the economic benefits are not there, and ports on the river are growing without a deeper channel.

Proponents say a deeper channel will promote commerce, allow bigger ships, and support more traffic, which is expected to come to the East Coast from Asia once the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2014.

Gov. Corbett in October freed up $15 million to continue the dredging. So far, 17 miles have been deepened.

"We had a bipartisan joint effort, everybody pulling together," said Charles Kopp, chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, a state agency.

Since August, letters have been written by elected U.S. representatives and senators, maritime officials, labor and Chamber of Commerce leaders, Mayor Nutter, and Govs. Corbett and Jack Markell of Delaware to Obama, Biden, director of Office of Management and Budget Jacob Lew, and Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army, all urging funding of the channel deepening.

The next deepening phase will cost about $30 million and involve blasting rock near Marcus Hook, said Lisa Magee, special projects engineer for the Philadelphia port authority.

"We are currently working with the Corps to better define the type of rock that is present, to minimize the amount of actual blasting that would be required," she said.

Some parts of the channel are naturally deep and will not require dredging. "Most of the stretches that are already at 45 feet or greater are in the bay portion of the channel," Magee said.

The deepening began in March 2010 after U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson in Wilmington denied a request to block it.


Contact staff writer Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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