Obama budget assures Delaware dredging will continue

A cargo ship being escorted downriver in early January. As dredging continues on the Delaware, larger ships and those with more cargo will be able to safely navigate the river, instead of having to transfer cargo.
A cargo ship being escorted downriver in early January. As dredging continues on the Delaware, larger ships and those with more cargo will be able to safely navigate the river, instead of having to transfer cargo. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 07, 2014

With more than half of the Delaware River navigation channel now at or deeper than 45 feet, the dredging project that began in March 2010 is on target for completion in 2017.

President Obama has proposed $35 million for the deepening of the Delaware in his 2015 fiscal year budget. About $20 million in federal money this year will be spent to deepen, from 40 to 45 feet, a stretch between the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges and the southernmost 15 miles in the lower Delaware Bay.

The lower channel contains sand, which will be used to build dunes and storm-damage protection at Broadkill Beach, said Ed Voigt, public affairs chief for the Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District.

A $14 million contract was recently awarded to deepen three or four miles between the west end of Philadelphia International Airport from Tinicum Marsh to Chester, Voigt said.

Rock blasting near Marcus Hook could begin in late 2015. The final step will be dredging in the upper Delaware Bay.

The corps receives a lump sum annually for various projects, and follows the president's budget recommendations. "Whatever the president's budget amount, we work with that," Voigt said.

"In the old days, what the president proposed didn't really mean anything until we found out the amount a project was getting appropriated by Congress."

Now, at least with the corps, "Congress doesn't earmark anymore. They pass a budget for the corps as a whole," Voigt said.

To date, 39 miles of the 102-mile channel from Camden to the Atlantic Ocean have been deepened. Eighteen miles were already naturally at or below 45 feet, leaving about 45 miles to be dredged.

The federal government has spent or awarded $90 million, and the State of Pennsylvania has spent $36 million in the $300 million project.

Steamship lines and port officials say the dredging will put more cargo on ships coming into the ports, and allow larger ships from Asia to sail the river when the Panama Canal expansion is completed in late 2015.

"This increase in funding sets us on a path to complete the project on schedule, so that Delaware River ports will remain an efficient and competitive part of America's trade network," U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.) said in a joint statement with U.S. Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D., Pa.) and Chris Coons (D., Del.).

"I spoke directly to Vice President Biden on this issue and made clear the economic potential that this project has for the region," Casey said.

"Deepening will bring new trade, investment, and thousands of new jobs to the Port of Wilmington and the Delaware Valley," Coons said. "I am thankful for the strong support the president's budget proposal has shown for this project, and will continue fighting to ensure its completion."

Currently, large ships have to be careful coming up the Delaware. Some transfer cargo onto smaller vessels, a process known as "lightering," before coming upriver. With deeper water, Philadelphia could be a ship's first port of call instead of second or later.

Ships are getting bigger, and the largest U.S. ports already have deeper water - Baltimore, Norfolk, Va., and Oakland, Calif., are dredged to 50 feet.

Charleston, S.C., is at 45 feet, and Savannah, Ga., at 42 feet. Los Angeles soon will be deepened to 53 feet and Long Beach, Calif., to 76 feet. The Port of New York and New Jersey is being deepened to 50 feet from 45.


lloyd@phillynews.com

215-854-2831

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