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GAO to Army Corps: Re-examine benefits of Delaware dredging project

April 2, 2010

In a report on the Delaware River deepening project released late Friday afternoon, the U.S. General Accounting Office says the Army Corps of Engineers should take another look at some aspects of the project.

The Corps has already agreed to take another look, but is also continuing with the project, spokesman Ed Voigt said in an emailed statement.

Opponents of the dredging project say this is a significant finding. The Corps says it’s not such a big deal.

The GAO said a Corps reanalysis of the controversial project done several years ago answered many of the GAO’s original concerns about the project.  “However, since the reanalysis was completed, market and industry  conditions have changed significantly in ways that raise questions about  the Corps’ project benefit estimates going forward,” the GAO wrote in the report, which is dated March 2010.

The GAO is concerned about the Corps cost-benefit analysis.  The report also questions the manner in which the Corps handled environmental concerns about the project.

“A key area of such uncertainty is the  outcome of the legal challenges to the project’s environmental approvals  and compliance. In particular, the Corps has made several decisions— such as soliciting information from the public over the winter holiday, and  then, following Army direction, not seeking public comment on the draft  environmental assessment—that have exacerbated public concerns over  environmental issues, and as a result, its communications with the public  regarding its actions have not been as open as might have been advisable  for such a controversial project,” the report states.

The GAO has recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide an updated assessment to the Assistant Secretary of  the Army for Civil Works and to Congress “of relevant market and  industry trends and outlook that specifies the extent to which the data and  assumptions underlying each benefit category have changed, and the effect of any changes on each benefit estimate and the project’s net benefit ,” the report states.

The Corps and other proponents – including Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell – say the deepining project will yield tremendous economic gain to the area, because it will allow for more shipping.

But critics – including the New Jersey governor – worry about the environmental impact of the dredging. Disposal of the post-dredging materials  has been a highly contested issue, even though the Corps says it doesn’t need any state’s permission to put dredging into dump sites it owns.

Delaware Riverkeepr Maya van Rossum has been among the projects loudest critics. She has also been involved in on-going legal battles around the project.

“This report confirms that the Army Corps still has not provided an accurate picture of the Delaware deepening and its ramifications for our region,”  van Rossum said in a press release. “If the Army Corps had spent as much time in providing accurate economic and environmental analyses as it has in evading the requirements of environmental protection laws we would have an accurate picture of the impacts of this project – instead we are all left with a lot more questions than answers.”
That’s not how  Voigt sees.

“At first glance there is nothing in the GAO’s final report that even approaches a deal breaker,” he said in an emailed statement. “Note their report is entitled ‘Comprehensive Reanalysis Corrected Errors, but Several Issues Still Need to Be Addressed’ — this is a far cry from the ‘Comprehensive Reanalysis Needed’ of eight years ago,” Voigt said. “The bottom line is that we have studied and re-studied the economics, as well as the environmental issues involved with this project, and found the project to be wholly supportable. The price of oil, steel, fruit and other commodities changes, but the need for a viable port is constant.
Click on the attachment to read the report in its entirety.

-Posted by Kellie Patrick Gates

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