Dispute over need for Delaware dredging approval

    An environmental protection group says the Army Corps of Engineers is trying to undermine the state of Delaware’s authority when it comes to deepening the Delaware River.

    Citing an Army Corps of Engineer’s memo obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the Delaware River Keeper Network says the Corps is trying to bypass the state of Delaware’s objections to the river deepening project.

    In a memo issued by Assistant Secretary of the Army Civil Works John Woodley advises that the deepening project will not be subject to the requirements of the Delaware subaqueous lands act.

    Delaware River Keeper Maya Van Rossum says the memo was issued on Woodley’s last day in that position. “We believe that this is an illegal position and that it is not defensible based on the law, but nonetheless, they are attempting this new strategy to try to get out from under the requirements of the law that would protect us all from this deepening project.”web xclusive banner

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    Corps officials say there’s been no decision as to what the next step in the process will be.  It’s also unclear whether Woodley’s replacement will uphold or overturn the guidance in outlined in the memo.

    In July, Delaware environmental officials denied a the Corps’ request for a permit to dredge the portion of the river off of Delaware’s coast. That denial issued in part because the proposal has changed since it was originally proposed.  Corps officials though say the only change in plans would have reduced the environmental impact of the dredging project.  The plan has been changed to reduce the amount of material needed to be dredged from the bottom of the river, and to reduce the number of sites to put that material once it’s removed from the river.

    The deepening project was authorized by Congress in 1992, pending local approval. That approval is still ongoing. The roughly $300-million deepening project will increase the depth of the shipping channel from 40 feet to 45 feet.

    The project has brought significant opposition from environmental groups. Their concerns include the possibility that contaminants would be exposed during the dredging process.

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