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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Delaware River Deepening to Commence

Delaware Online

The first stage of a multi-year, $310-million deepening of the Delaware River main shipping channel will start early next week, the Army Corps of Engineers reported this afternoon.

Corps spokesman Edward Voigt said the agency plans “nothing extraordinary” when a contractor begins cutting the shipping channel to 45 feet from its 40 foot depth at a starting point near the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.

A Nofolk-based company already is at work dredging away silt that has made the current channel bottom shallower than the 40-foot minimum depth along a 12-mile section between the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the canal.

“They’ll just go further down,” Voigt said.

Port and shipping interests said the deeper channel is needed between Philadelphia and the Atlantic Ocean to keep local ports and businesses competitive with others along the Atlantic.

Remaining sections of the 103-mile channel will be deepened over the next three years.

Work will begin, however, in the shadow of three separate court challenges.

New Jersey and a coalition of environmental groups have sued to block the dredging in two actions filed in New Jersey’s U.S. District Court. The environmental organizations also are appealing Delaware’s loss of a similar federal court challenge late last month.

Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin P. O’Mara said late Thursday talks are continuing with the corps on an agreement in lieu of a permit on state environmental protection priorities during the work.

A federal judge agreed to let work on the first section start without a formal Delaware underwater construction permit, over state objections that the dredging was entirely inside Delaware and subject to state environmental protection laws.

Critics have charged that the corps failed to meet or ignored a range of environmental protection requirements in pursuing the deepening.

Recent purchase of air pollution reduction “credits” cleared the way for work to begin on the $310 million project, said Edward Voigt, spokesman for the agency’s Philadelphia regional office. Details on the cost and number of credits purchased were not immediately available.

Federal Clean Air Act terms required puchases of credits to offset increased pollution emissions during the dredging work. The credits are sold by the ton by other businesses or activities that have reduced or eliminated other types of air pollution.

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