Dredging the Delaware

Filed in National by on February 15, 2010

The News Journal had an article on Sunday that tries to describe the current state of local environmental concerns about dredging this river. And this is a good article — to the extent that it provides a summary of the arguments against the dredge. I’ve still not seen any evidence provided — either in the form of a competing EIS or challenged sections about these concerns. But I still am agnostic on this project and not really interested in taking either side.

I am wondering here is there wasn’t a big, missed opportunity for some of the dirtiest areas in this river. It seems to me that an approach that would have traded permit approval with, for instance, Federal help in strong-arming the Deepwater site to clean up may have been a net win. Or conditioning permit approvals on specific habitat protections/expansions as part of the project. Or on ensuring that water/sediment flow is managed to ensure that habitat/wetlands are not damaged. After all, the vast majority of the benefits of deepening this river redound almost entirely to Pennsylvania, who has been doing the strong arming on this thing. There were likely alot of ways to get more environmental protections out of this for the Delaware portion during those years of review and delay. Not extracting some projects that may act to enhance or protect the river looks pretty shortsighted from here — as it looks as though the courts may just let this happen.

And while the court proceedings may take some time, it looks as though the Obama Administration has not provided any funds for this project in their latest budget. They didn’t provide any funds last year, either, but those funds were restored by Congress.

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"You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas." -Shirley Chisholm

Comments (16)

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  1. fightingbluehen says:

    In my opinion Delaware is getting screwed in this deal between the Obama administration and Ed Rendell.Also i believe the Bidens are
    a complacent and integral part of this deal.
    The Army corps of engineers is not going to act without the full graces of the administration especially when the action will effect the home state of the vice president,who’s son happens to be the AG of that state.
    Sure there will be a token effort by Beu Biden to go through the proper procedures,but as far as fighting to stop the dredging goes,i don’t think so.
    The thing that confuses me is why they want bigger oil tankers up the Delaware especially when they are saying we will be using less oil in the future.One refinery is already closed.
    Delaware could also be at risk of financial problems if they dig something up and the wind pushes it on our beaches and surrounding waters.
    who will be responsible for the clean up,and the cost of the clean up?
    The dredging will take years to complete.My guess is that bad stuff will eventually end up on our beaches.I don’t wan’t my kid swimming in that stuff.

  2. cassandra m says:

    Well I guess it is certainly easier to rely on conspiracy theories rather than deal with the facts at hand. First one being that the Obama Administration has submitted two budgets where this project has been zeroed out. Congress added back those funds last year and probably will this year.

    The Corps of Engineers will do what it gets paid to do. Which is its own problem.

    It isn’t just tankers that the Port of Philly wants to bring up the Delaware. They think that they have a valuable thing — contiguous waterfront land to develop a larger port presence. At one time they had commitments from shippers and developers to expand their Port once it seemed clear that the Delaware would deepen. Given the worldwide economy it is far from clear if they’ll reap alot of benefits from that expansion.

  3. There are specific advanges to this deepening that have to do with the deepening of the Panama Canal to accept a certain depth for newer, much, much bigger hauling ships. Evidently without this depth change, everyone up here will be losing out.
    google: Panama_Canal_expansion+vessel+size

  4. Geezer says:

    “Evidently without this depth change, everyone up here will be losing out.

    If channel depth alone determined shipping destinations, everything on the East Coast would come in through the mouth of the Chesapeake, where the natural depth is about 60 feet. Rail and highway connections on the land side have more to do with destination than size of the ships.

  5. cassandra m says:

    Rail and highway connections at almost every port on the East Coast are pretty good. And I don’t think that there are any East Coast ports left that are at their natural depth.

    But getting Panamax and post-Panamax sized ships is causing a rush of channel deepening and port expansions at pretty much every port in the East.

  6. I have watched numerous shows on Channel 28 about this subject.

    What the people who are involved in the Maritime Assn and the docks are saying, Geez, is that if the ports up here can’t handle the depth that the container ships coming up from Panama demand, then we don’t get the container ships….no matter what the rails and roads afford. They will go to Baltimore.

  7. Geezer says:

    “But getting Panamax and post-Panamax sized ships is causing a rush of channel deepening and port expansions at pretty much every port in the East.”

    Which wouldn’t happen if the Maritime Assn etc. weren’t busy playing the ports against each other to make sure this happens everywhere.

    “I have watched numerous shows on Channel 28 about this subject.”

    And I’m sure they were paragons of objectivity and presenting both sides of the issue.

    “I don’t think that there are any East Coast ports left that are at their natural depth.”

    The Chesapeake was formed by a long ago meteor impact. It is much deeper than any river channel.

  8. cassandra m says:

    The mouth of the Chesapeake may be 60 ft, but the navigational channels up to the Ports and to the naval bases are not. The Corps has dredged some of those channels up to 55 ft.

    It is the navigational channels that get those ships up to the piers and cranes to unload that need the deepening.

  9. The problem is the feds not funding the dredging. The port has been awarded stimulus money to refurbish for the new business.

    I am not saying that the post interests are giving every side, Geez, I am saying that you didn’t seem to have heard about the Pananma expansion and the pressure to ready the upper Delaware for that business or go bust (ish).

    I don’t know if the competition is Baltimore or NY. I don’t recall.

  10. Kurward Derby says:

    Harry Shearer on Le Show this Saturday conducted an eye-opening interview with author Michael Grunwald, who has exposed the Army Corps and its modus operandi in getting its share of pork projects.

    I heard Wilmington mentioned, but couldn’t tell if Grunwald was referring to Delaware or not. Can’t find a transcript.


  11. cassandra_m says:

    I heard that show too — Grunwald has been reporting on the Corps for awhile and it is too bad that his series for the WaPo on the Corps some years back is apparently no longer up on their website. The Corps has been a good partner in helping local legislators get their projects. Some of it is pork, some of it not.

    But one of the best things that could happen is a complete revamp of the Corps’ models to evaluate water resources projects. They are way too heavily weighted to economic benefits and give little weight to long term environmental impacts.

    Grunwald wrote an outstanding book on the environmental and political debacle that is the Everglades.

  12. Geezer says:

    Cass: I understand that. The point is that depth is not the sole issue in deciding where to dock. Only one entity the entire length of the Delaware estuary has agreed to dredge the channel to its own dock: Sun Oil. That’s it. All the rest is supposition.

  13. cassandra_m says:

    Well, supposition and the expansion plan that Ed Rendell is pushing for the Port of Philadelphia:

    Governor Rendell said Pennsylvania intends to move forward with a planned financing at the PRPA to raise over $300 million in investment for immediate port development. The bond issue will be supported by the state and by the private beneficiaries of the funds and will support a number of projects:

    * Pier 82 upgrades – Upgrades to Pier 82 infrastructure to increase competitiveness in attracting a 52-ship-per-year account to this facility;
    * Tioga Marine Terminal – Extend the crane rail for the container cranes and build a 100,000-square-foot warehouse for the Chilean fruit business;
    * Pier 74 Annex Warehouse – Develop 200,000-square-foot warehouse for paper products;
    * Astro Holdings/Packer Avenue Marine Terminal – Construct two gantry cranes, crane rail extension, crane electrification and expansion of a refrigerated warehouse;
    * Penn City/Brown – Demolition and construction of a new warehouse on Pier 80;
    * Dependable Distribution – Construction of a 100,000-square-foot, on-site warehouse for additional storage of cocoa beans;
    * Camden Iron & Metal – Support the purchase of Schuylkill Pier 3, located at Girard Point, and build a facility for scrap metal and other potential bulk cargo; and
    * Emerson Landfill/Victory Gardens – Support the purchase of land to relocate an existing tenant from Pier 3, so to enhance a marketable bulk terminal facility there

    Almost all of the pier upgrades include a dredging component to dock these ships.

    Whether or not they can make this financially viable or competitive, I have no idea. But the Port of Philly is trying to be on a building path to do business with more and larger ships.

  14. The WNJ has a Business News blurb today about the size of modern cargo ships and its relevance to trade.

    Sure, the Corps is an snakey arm of Business-As-Usual and very political, but at least they are not trying to sell our ports and transportation infrastructure like Bushie’s delightful Secy.John Snow. /snark off

  15. fightingbluehen says:

    Not to say I told you so, but on Monday I said this:

    “Sure there will be a token effort by Beu Biden to go through the proper procedures,but as far as fighting to stop the dredging goes,i don’t think so.”

    And tonight TNJ has this:

    Del. isn’t joining bid
    to block river

    By JEFF MONTGOMERY • The News Journal •
    February 17, 2010

    Delaware has declined to join an attempt to block
    the startup of Delaware River main channel
    deepening work while a higher court reviews federal
    and state authority over the project.

    Attorney General Joseph R. Biden III said only that
    the state “takes no position” on an environmental
    coalition’s motion for a Third Circuit Court of
    Appeals stay pending review of a recent district
    court ruling against Delaware on the more than
    $300 million project. Biden made his comment in a
    letter to the court today.

  16. cassandra_m says:

    Does this article say that Delaware will not be pursuing its own appeal?

    Besides, I think if you’ve read the Judge’s justification for denial, DE has quite the uphill climb. Especially since in the time they were dallying on this permit they produced little data to counter the Corps report. It’s why I said right at the top that it looks like the courts may just let this happen.