Lawsuits filed over Delaware dredging

Five environmental organizations filed two sets of legal documents in opposition to the proposed deepening of the Delaware River.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the National Wildlife Federation, New Jersey Environmental Federation, Clean Water Action and Delaware Nature Society filed a law suit in New Jersey Federal District Court and also filed to intervene in a suit brought against the deepening project by the State of Delaware.

The battle over deepening the channel – and what to do with the sediments removed as a result – has waged for years. A big part of the disagreement: The vast majority of the disposal sites are in New Jersey, but New Jersey doesn’t want to accept the dredge material.

Proponents say the dredging and resulting deepening of the shipping channel will make the Port of Philadelphia much more competitive. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Ed Voigt said that the Corps no longer needs permission to put the dredge material in New Jersey or Delaware, because it does not need any new sites. New technology has allowed for new estimates on the amount of material that would be dredged. “It’s been determined that we can fit everything in at the federally owned sites” in New Jersey and Delaware, he said. These sites – seven in New Jersey and one in Delaware – are the same ones where dredge material from routine maintenance of the channel is placed, Voigt said.

Opponents fear the dredging will create environmental problems, and they disagree with the Corps’ assertion that they have the clearance they need.

The environmental groups which filed the legal actions Thursday claim the plan to go ahead with the deepening project without an up-to-date environmental impact statement and approvals from New Jersey, Delaware and other federal agencies is a violation of federal law and Delaware State law.

“When the government is willing to break the law in a way that hurts our communities, citizens must rise up and defend the law, defend the river that sustains us all. That is what we are doing today – defending our right to clean water, clean air, fish we can catch and feed our children, wetlands and floodplains that protect us from pollution and floods” states Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

Posted by Kellie Patrick Gates

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.