New environmental assessment a major milestone in project

The Army Corps of Engineers has concluded that the proposed deepening of the Delaware River poses “no significant adverse environmental effects” in a newly released environmental assessment (EA). The new EA paves the way for the commencement of project construction and the thousands of family-supporting jobs that will accompany increased commerce along the Delaware River.

“This Environmental Assessment confirms what the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, the Army Corps, and the many supporters of the channel deepening project have been saying all along: the environmental impacts of this project have been studied thoroughly and this project will bring good, high paying jobs to our region at a time when they are so desperately needed,” said John H. Estey, chairman of the PRPA.

The Delaware River Main Channel will be deepened to 45 feet from 40 feet, 102 miles from Beckett Street Terminal in Camden, NJ to the mouth of the Delaware Bay.

The EA examined 10 years of data, the findings of the original Environmental Impact Statement and the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. It also reviewed three changes to the project and two to the project area:

  • Dredged material quantities: Since the estimated amount of dredged material to be removed from the channel has significantly decreased, the four new upland disposal sites identified in a 1997 study are no longer needed.
  • Broadkill Beach DE sand replenishment: Instead of offshore sand stockpiling as stated in a previous study, the current plan calls for direct placement on the Broadkill Beach of enough sand to replenish and rebuild the beach, following the recommendations of regulatory agencies.
  • Deferment of Egg Island Point NJ restoration: Due to significant reduction of dredged material quantities available, restoration of intertidal habitat adjacent to Egg Island Point has been deferred.
  • Athos oil spill will have no significant impact on dredged material: A January 2009 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded the 2004 oil spill would have no significant adverse effect on sediments to be dredged to construct the deepening project.
  • Limiting areas to protect Shortnose sturgeon: Since surveys indicate the number and distribution of the federally listed shortnose sturgeon is likely to expand, and could be in the vicinity of the Marcus Hook rock blasting area, the Army Corps will restrict and monitor that work, as previously committed in the earlier environmental studies. The Corps will also comply with all recommendations by the National Marine Fisheries Service to minimize any potential adverse effects on the shortnose sturgeon.

The Delaware River deepening project has been strongly supported by the public, workers and business leaders across the region. Most recently, the PENJERDEL Council, a leading business advocacy group for the tri-state region of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, announced its support, citing the project’s impact on job creation and overall economic development for the region.

Last June, the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA), the local sponsor of the dredging project, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers signed a Project Partnership Agreement. The project, which is estimated to cost about $277 million, will take five to seven years to complete.