BY TOM HESTER SR.
A U.S. Government Accountability Office report made public Friday finds the Army Corps of Engineers is not providing a timely picture of the economic value of dredging a 100-mile stretch of the Delaware River and Bay to north of Camden.
Environmentalists who have been joined by the Christie administration in opposing the $400 million dredging project, were quick to point out the report's findings.
The GAO found the economic evaluations done by the Corps of Engineers are insufficient because they do not take into account the change in economic conditions, including the closing of refineries, the lessening of steel imports, and other market conditions within the region that make the deepening less viable.
The report states there needs to be better guidance for public notice and environmental documents. The report also found there is still a lot of opposition to the deepening and that it may or may not go forward because of legal challenges by the states. The report cites, among other things, concerns by the Christie administration and environmentalists, that there needs to be more environmental processes and approval.
At one point, the report states, "In the reanalysis, the Corps stated that its construction schedule would allow benefits to be achieved at downriver facilities where deepening had already occurred before all upriver segments had been deepened. However, we observed-and Corps officials agreed-that the Corps' revised construction schedule makes it impossible to achieve these benefits."
"This report confirms that the Army Corps still has not provided an accurate picture of the Delaware deepening and its ramifications for our region,'' Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper said. "If the Army Corps had spent as much time in providing accurate economic and environmental analyses as it has in evading the requirements of environmental protection laws we would have an accurate picture of the impacts of this project - instead we are all left with a lot more questions than answers."
"While the Army Corps is pushing ahead with the deepening no matter what anyone thinks or says, this GAO report raises more questions that have to be answered before the project goes forward," New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. "The report basically says the Army Corps is going ahead without listening to the facts or the concerns from the states that will be affected by the deepening. Government agencies are not usually critical of each other. When you read between the lines, the GAO is saying the Army Corps hasn't done its job when it comes to an economic analysis, proper notice, or protecting the states and the environment.''
The Corps of Engineers began dredging off Delaware early last month with the goal of deepening the river to allow larger container ships and oil tankers to dock in the port of Philadelphia. New Jersey is trying to stop the action through two actions in U.S. District Court.
The state is opposing the Corps' effort to transfer New Jersey's lawsuit challenging the project to U.S. District Court in Delaware. A brief filed with U.S. District Court Judge Joel Pisano in Trenton argues that the transfer is inappropriate because most of the disposal sites are in New Jersey, not Delaware.
The state has also challenged the Corps' determination that it is complying with the federal Clean Air Act by purchasing air-pollution credits to mitigate smog caused by its equipment. The state Department of Environmental Protection argues the Corps should implement projects that would result in actual pollution reductions, not paper credits.
New Jersey federal and state officials and environmentalists argue the Corps plans to dump millions of tons of potentially toxic sediment at eight or nine sites in waterfront counties.
Tittel said deepening the river will also threaten New Jersey's drinking water.
"The project requires blasting of bedrock at the bottom of the Delaware River, which could cause fissures in the bedrock and allow salt water intrusion into the underground aquifer and the drinking water,'' Tittel said. "Farms in southern New Jersey depend on the underground aquifer for irrigation and salt water intrusion would cause significant crop damage, negatively impacting the state's farming industry.''
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, along with the Environmental Endowment for New Jersey, the Delaware Nature Society, Clean Water Action, and the National Wildlife Federation have also brought legal action challenging the project as being in violation of seven federal environmental laws.