Dredging begins in Delaware River

    Work on the much-debated Delaware River deepening project got underway Monday. Boosters say new jobs will follow soon, but environmentalists are still worried that the region’s clean water is at risk.

    Work on the much-debated Delaware River deepening project got underway Monday. Boosters say new jobs will follow soon, but environmentalists are still worried that the region’s clean water is at risk.

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    The plan to deepen the river to 45 feet dodged court challenges from both Delaware and New Jersey. But Pennsylvania officials have high hopes that the dredged-up muck can be used to fill-in abandoned mines in the Northeast part of the state.

    John Estey is chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority. He says the deepened channel will draw more shipping business to the region and create 125,000 jobs.

    Estey: That includes all the indirect jobs that are attached to the port. Those include shipping, warehousing, trucking jobs, transportation jobs etcetera.

    Jeff Tittel leads the New Jersey Sierra Club. He’s not convinced.

    Tittel: First and foremost the Port of Philadelphia will never be a major port, because it will never handle the new 50-foot draft ships. Plus the big ships wouldn’t fit under any of the bridges.

    Tittel doubts that Philadelphia could ever truly compete with the big ports along the east coast. He also worries that the dredging operation will claw into the riverbed and contaminate ground water underneath.

    Tittel: By blasting the river bottom and deepening it. There are brackish waters that come up at certain times of the year that can actually get into the aquifer down there and contaminate the ground water. There’s only about a 5 foot layer of clay between the aquifer and the river in some places where it’s brackish.

    Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter is a big booster of the deepening project. He says environmental concerns have been vetted, and he’ll seek federal funds to get the dredged material to abandoned mines in Northeast Pennsylvania

    Estey says the deepened channel will bring larger commercial ships to Philadelphia.

    Estey: Mostly we are focusing on container ships with a deeper draft that will be able to come up the river. In five years, pretty much every ship that operates internationally is going to require at least 42 feet of water, and so that’s why it’s so important today that we are starting this project.

    Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter says he’ll introduce a bill to free up federal money so the dredged-up material can be transported and used to fill-in abandoned mines.

    Monday, Governor Christie said the Garden State will continue to fight the project.

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