Fleming of the Delaware Nature Society offered the suggestion at
a public hearing in Dover on June 6. He was not specific in
defining the oversight group except to say it should be
representative of "stakeholders" in the public and private
sectors. Nor did he talk about what authority it might have over
the course of the project.
session was unusual in that the corps is the applicant for a
Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control
permit allowing the project to proceed. The state agency will
hold a public hearing which counts at a time yet to be
determined. Bill Moyer, its environmental program manager, said
the transcript of proceedings at the corps' session will
become part of the official record when Natural Resources does
Muller of Green Delaware charged that participation by Natural
Resources in the corps' session -- which included not only
'testimony' but also an elaborate array of poster displays
dealing with various aspects of the project -- was a blatant
conflict of interest. Objector groups were represented in the
Among the material distributed to
attenders was a 'facts sheet' which declared that dredging for a
deeper channel "could begin as early as fall, 2001." That
appeared virtually impossible as opposing groups clearly
demonstrated they intend to take the issue down to whatever
final line emerges. The General Accounting Office, the financial
research arm of Congress, is
currently investigating the
project and Moyer pointed out that a court fight is a
possible followup if Delaware issues a permit.
Brown said that the military
are not proponents of the project but, as "stewards of the
river," are obeying orders from Congress, which authorized
the $311 million project in 1992, and the federal
is to deepen the shipping channel from the ocean through
Delaware Bay and up the river to Philadelphia and Camden, N.J.,
to 45 feet from its present 40 feet. That will take an estimated
four to five years to accomplish and require digging up and
disposing of some 33 million cubic yards of river bottom.
requirement is the nub of the controversy. Environmentalists
claim that stirring up the bottom is equivalent to opening a
proverbial Pandora's box and loosening a host of woes on the
entire ecosystem of the region.
for instance, noted the Delaware was once "used as a sewer, a
cheap way to dispose of unwanted by-products" of the industries
which lined its banks. Noting the extent of the cleanup which
has occurred since the advent of environmental laws and
regulations in the early 1970s, he said, "Many of us worry about
risking a reversal."
categorically denied any environmental danger. He said the river
engineer Tony DePasquale -- who works for the Army Corps
of Engineers and is not related to Delaware's secretary of
natural resourses -- discusses an environmental matter
with an attender at the corps' public hearing.
thoroughly tested. "Out of the $10 million spent [on the
project] so far, $7 million has been spent to make sure there
will be no significant impact on the environment," he said.
"There is no way we would allow a significant impact." He
declared flatly that there is no toxic material in the mostly
sand and rock that will be displaced.
Negotiations are under way looking to one possible use for the
stuff, as fill to close abandoned coal mines in Pennsylvania, he
said. Another use mentioned at the hearing was providing fill
dirt for construction of the two sports stadiums planned for
professing a neutrality of sorts, Brown repeatedly described the
project as well intentioned and carefully designed to "balance
the social, economic and environmental needs of the region." He
pointed out that the Corps of Engineers, which has responsibility
to maintain the nation's navigable inland waterways, has been
caring for the Delaware since 1866 with a strong implication
its people know what they are doing.
that dredging to maintain the current 40 foot channel has been a
continuous process for many years.
Unabashedly partisan on the issue is the project's co-sponsor,
the Delaware River Port Authority, which is putting up $100
million of the total cost. The authority is a bi-state --
Pennsylvania and New Jersey -- quasipublic agency established to
advance the interests of the upriver ports.
Murphy, the authority's chief operating officer, said that
channel deepening is necessary to preserve the competitiveness
of the ports and the 54,000 jobs they provide. Responding to
objectors' claim that the project is intended primarily to
benefit the four oil companies which have refineries along the
river, Murphy said that 80% of the port-related jobs "have
nothing to do with the petroleum industry."
Rochford, president of the Maritime Exchange of the Delaware
River and Bay, a private-sector trade group involving business
interests in all three states washed by the waterway, said
deepening is essential to preserving the competitiveness of the
ports vis-à-vis New York, Baltimore, Norfolk, Charleston and
Savannah. Specifically, he said that container ships which now
draw 38 feet will soon be replaced by newer models which require
42 feet of clearance.
need on the river is deeper water [just] to keep the business we
have," he said.
his sentiments was Michael Sprague, representing the Port of
Wilmington. He called a deeper river channel "a logical
extension of the Interstate Highway System" and a "significant
business opportunity:" for the state-operated local port, which
last year hosted nearly 500 vessels and moved 5 million tons of
Rossum, who identified herself as "the Delaware Riverkeeper" and
said she was speaking for a coalition of 22 local, state and
national environmentally involved organizations, said the
economic arguments were, for the most part, spurious. She said
the ports, which lie as far as 100 miles upriver, is at a
natural disadvantage of deep-water ports on the ocean itself.
"The niche for these ports is as a 'feeder' to the container
ship ports of New York and Baltimore." she said. Baltimore lies
at the head of Chesapeake Bay.
that the Port of Wilmington, which is actually on the Delaware's
Christina River tributary is presently accessed by a channel
less than 40 feet deep. There are no plans, she said, to deepen
its approach nor provide deeper access to the piers at the
refineries. She claimed that 80% of the projected economic
benefits will accrue to the refineries "who are contributing
nothing to the cost" and have so far shied away from committing
to any investment to improve their faculties to take advantage
of a deeper channel.
"When the lack of economic benefit
is coupled with the serious threat to the environment it becomes
painfully obvious that this project should not move forward,"