Some environmental groups have long opposed the Delaware River dredging over concerns about its impact on fragile species there.
When the once-prolific Atlantic sturgeon was put on the endangered species list in April, some dredging supporters worried it would delay a project already embroiled in legal battles.
A required federal environmental assessment submitted last month concluded the deepening of the river would likely kill 16 sturgeon, but would not jeopardize the continued existence of the species.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report outlined a plan for the Army Corps of Engineers to limit kills, including requiring an observer to monitor dredge spoils for fish or fish parts.
Corps spokesman Richard Pearsall said they were already doing that.
“We’ve done two sections of this project so far and we haven’t discovered a single sturgeon, so we’re hopeful that we won’t in this section either,” Pearsall said. “If we do, then we immediately consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service.”
According to the plan, when the corps starts blasting during later phases of the project, they will have to work to avoid explosions when sturgeon are near.
They will also have to have a trained observer on board some dredging boats to look for the fish.
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, one of the plaintiffs in the cases seeking to halt the dredging, worries the action plan focuses too much on monitoring and documenting deaths and not enough on preventing them.
The group’s lawyer Jane Davenport added the estimated 16 sturgeon deaths is actually not a small number given the river’s tiny sturgeon population.
“It may look like a very small number, but when you start looking at all the different activities that are harming and killing sturgeon, they really add up quickly,” Davenport said.
The dredging of a nine-mile stretch between the Walt Whitman Bridge and the Philadelphia International Airport is scheduled to start within a month. It will deepen the Delaware River from 40 to 45 feet and allow larger cargo tankers to reach the Philadelphia port.