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Port Authority Could Fund New Delaware River Dredging Phase

Despite court rulings allowing it to dredge the Delaware River to a new depth of 45 feet to allow the port of Philadelphia to accommodate expected traffic from the Panama Canal opening in 2014, continuing court challenges and Congressional hold-ups have left a funding shortfall.

That’s why the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority may step in to provide funding for the channel-deepening project’s next phase, according to Delaware Online.
The first phase of the channel deepening project, a 12-mile stretch between the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, was completed this year, Edward Voigt, a Corps spokesman, told Delaware Online on September 21.

The cost of the next phase, from $10 million to $25 million, could be carried by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, Voigt suggested. The port authority could count the expense against its one-third share requirement in the overall project, whose costs should total about $310 million along its 103 miles.

Although Delaware District Judge Sue Robinson rejected requests by Delaware, New Jersey and environmental groups to block the dredging earlier this year on the first 12 miles, new court challenges have been filed. Opponents claim that the dredging will release toxins, harm fishing, and will cost more than its projected benefits. Earlier challenges objected to Corps dumping of dredged material in New Jersey.

Bids for a contract to remove 1.3 million cubic yards of dredged material were due by October 14. The first 12-mile section produced one million more cubic yards than the originally projected 2.6 million, because of heavier-than-expected sediment deposits.

In early November, Delaware Online reported that Federal Judge Joel A. Pisano had rejected a petition by environmental groups to halt action on the case after the federal government proposed an endangered listing for Atlantic sturgeon.

The groups included the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Delaware Nature Society, National Wildlife Federation, New Jersey Environmental Federation and Clean Water Action.
In his opinion, made public on November 5, Pisano ruled that the Corps of Engineers already is conferring with the National Marine Fisheries Service on the consequences of the sturgeon proposal. An injunction is meanwhile blocking further dredging of the channel pending a Delaware agency’s decision on key environmental permits.

Pisano said a stay would damage those seeking a $300 million deepening of the 103-mile channel to 45 feet from its current 40-foot depth between Philadelphia and the Atlantic.

“Shippers are at this time considering whether to continue conducting business at ports that cannot accommodate the deeper draft vessels,” Pisano wrote, “such that further delaying the deepening project by staying the proceedings would have a real adverse impact on the economic vitality” of port interests.

A Corps dredging contractor already has deepened 12 miles of the water to 45 feet under a limited approval granted by a U.S. District Court judge in a related suit in Delaware earlier this year.

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