Delaware dredging begins amid dispute
A contractor working for the Army Corps of Engineers began work Monday deepening the Delaware River's main shipping channel to 45 feet from 40 feet, controversy over the project is not going away, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vowing to redouble efforts to block project.
The deeper channel could be used for ships calling at the ports of Wilmington, Del., Philadelphia, and Camden or the many other terminals along the shoreline of the Delaware River, a major center for the petroleum and chemical industry.
On Jan. 27, a U.S. district court judge refused to block the project, noting, 'Congress has made the determination that it is in the public interest to proceed with the deepening project.' This project was first authorized by Congress in the 1992 Water Resources and Development Act.
New Jersey has filed a lawsuit challenging the project and said it filed a brief Monday before U.S. District Court Judge Joel Pisano in Trenton arguing that an effort by the Army Corps to transfer the suit to Delaware is inappropriate because most of the disposal sites are in New Jersey, not Delaware.
Christie, said the “Army Corps expects South Jersey to bear the environmental burden for a project that doesn’t make economic sense.”
A Republican, Christie was accompanied at a press conference by two Democratic legislators — U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews and State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney — where they said they would continue to fight the project.
“By taking actions to deepen the Delaware, not only has the Army Corps of Engineers chosen to ignore mandatory environmental regulations but they are placing the health and well-being of our residents at stake,” Andrews said. “I applaud Gov. Christie for standing up against this enormous waste of taxpayer dollars and reckless attempt to dump millions of tons of spoils on South Jersey.”
“For all the years of reports and discussions, South Jersey still has never received an acceptable answer to how this dredging project will benefit our communities,” Sweeney said.
The project's start was hailed by Dennis Rochford, president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, who noted the channel was last deepened, to 40 feet from 35 feet, prior to World War II in 1940.
“A historic step has been taken to measurably enhance the competitive position of our regional port complex among other deepwater East Coast ports,” Rochford said. “Over these past seven decades, much has changed in the maritime industry; international trade has grown exponentially, ships have gotten larger, and every other East Coast port operates with shipping channels from 42 to 50 feet.”