Deal may allow dredging of Delaware River to proceed
A year-and-a-half-long standoff over between the governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey has ended, and a deal they announced today may permit deepening of a Delaware River shipping channel to Philadelphia to move forward.
Under an agreement announced Thursday morning, responsibility for the proposed dredging project will be transferred from the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), a bi-state agency, to the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, which is an arm of the Pennsylvania state government.
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a proponent of deepening the channel from 40 feet to 45 feet, hailed the announcement, saying it will allow dredging of the main channel of the Delaware River to proceed.
“This historic agreement will allow for increased commercial shipping traffic, investment and economic development in our region,” Rendell said. “I believe nothing is more important to the future of the ports of Philadelphia, southern New Jersey and Delaware than this project.'
As a result of the pact, Rendell said Pennsylvania would resume its participation in regular meetings of the DRPA, which it has boycotted since November 2005. Rendell is chairman of the agency and had prevented board members from his state attending meetings so that a quorum was not present and business could not be transacted.
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, who has been an opponent of dredging gave a much more muted interpretation of the agreement.
“My position on dredging itself has not changed. I still have serious environmental and economic concerns about the wisdom and propriety of dredging,” he said. “The burden of proof falls on those who believe this project should go forward.”
His office also said in a statement that Rendell’s boycott effectively froze “all major financial decisions and resulting in a downgrade of the authority’s credit rating. It is estimated that the inability to meet, and thereby refinance debt, has cost the authority close to $11 million.”
Corzine’s office said in a statement that New Jersey would “maintain all of its rights to review and deny permit applications associated with this project. Pennsylvania has also agreed to seek an updated Environmental Impact Statement from the Army Corps of Engineers.”
Dredging of the Delaware River will run from the mouth of Delaware Bay to Philadelphia and Camden, a distance of about 100 miles. Although the river is occasionally dredged to maintain the current depth of the channel, the DRPA said the channel has not been deepened since 1942.
Dennis Rochford, president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, lauded the decision, saying it was “an incredibly significant accomplishment that will propel regional port development and allow all Delaware River port facilities to competitively attract the emerging class of larger cargo vessels.”
Other components of the deal:
* $38.5 million in DRPA funds, which had been set aside for the dredging project, will be equally divided for environmental and port infrastructure improvements in New Jersey.
* A committee will be established to identify sites for the disposal of about 26 million cubic yards of spoils material. Pennsylvania has agreed to accept all spoils material, except to the extent that New Jersey seeks spoils material for New Jersey port facility projects.
* Both states will support the expansion of a DRPA rail systems in Gloucester County, N.J., and in Philadelphia.