Judge permits some Delaware River dredging

    A US District judge has okayed a portion of a contentious proposal to deepen the shipping channel of the Delaware River.

    A proposal to deepen the Delaware River’s shipping channel has been 20 years in the making, with countless ups and downs. The US Army Corps has won the latest battle — but opponents to deepening say they are not giving up. [audio:100128kgdredging.mp3]

    Digging the river’s shipping channel down to 45 feet would allow ships with heavier loads to do business in the ports. The US Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of the project and just got the go-ahead from a judge to start dredging.

    The judge’s decision didn’t go all the way — it blocks dredging except in a stretch of river called Reach C, near Wilmington.

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    Ed Voigt is the spokesman for the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of the deepening. He says it’s a good start.

    Voigt: Right now it’s the one and only contract that’s in place than we can carry out for the deepening project and by the judge’s decision we’re now clear to go forward so we will.

    In blocking much of the project, the judge agreed with Delaware’s contention that additional environmental review is required for those sections.

    Collin O’Mara is Delaware’s environmental secretary. He says the administration is exploring legal options in response.

    If it is determined that a permit was not needed for Reach C, it’s unclear to us whether, by that same logic, why is it required for reaches A, B, D, and E? So we want to have that legal conversation.

    Maya van Rossum is the Delaware River Keeper, and opposes deepening.

    van Rossum:
    The fact that the judge issues a preliminary injunction against the project as a whole, preventing it from going to completion. and yet at the same time did allow a segment of the project to move forward is undoubtedly perplexing.

    Environmental advocates say digging in the the river will harm the habitat, and they will work to make sure the rest of the deepening remains blocked.

    The Corps says dredging could begin as early as February. And it will continue to apply for Delaware’s permit for the rest of the project. Van Rossum says to expect more litigation to come.

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