Corzine: Uphold dredging agreement

(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Saturday, June 28, 2008.)

Gov. Jon S. Corzine demanded that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers honor his agreement with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell to keep Delaware River dredge spoils in Pennsylvania.

Corzine expressed outrage Friday over the Army Corps’ decision to ignore the Corzine-Rendell agreement on disposing spoils dredged during the 5-foot deepening of the river’s shipping channel, which spans from west of Cape May Point north to Philadelphia.

“Among other things, our agreement specified that the dredged material resulting from any deepening project would be deposited entirely in Pennsylvania, not in New Jersey,” Corzine wrote John Woodley, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, in a letter Friday.

Corzine also challenged the Army Corps’ assertion this week that it does not need Clean Water Act approval from New Jersey to begin the deepening project. The state granted the Army Corps a water quality certification in 1997, but revoked it in 2002 because of economic and environmental questions.

“It was a surprise to learn the ACOE’s position is that it does not need any New Jersey approvals for the dredging project to go forward,” Corzine wrote.

Corzine insisted the Army Corps provide an updated environmental impact study and updated dredge disposal plan before starting work.

The Army Corps declined comment Friday.

“We just got the letter,” Army Corps spokesman Khaalid Walls said Friday, “and we’re in the process of drafting a formal response.”

Corzine spared criticism of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, the Army Corps’ partner in the project.

It was Port Authority Chairman John Estey, Rendell’s appointee and former chief of staff, who proposed ignoring the governors’ agreement in a Feb. 8 letter to the Army Corps, justifying the decision by noting “the PRPA is an independent agency and is not subject to the direct control of the Governor of Pennsylvania.”

The Corzine-Rendell agreement ended a standoff between the states by transferring the project’s local sponsorship from the bistate Delaware River Port Authority to the PRPA. It also stated that New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware will create a committee to determine beneficial uses for which the dredge spoils can be used.

Rendell insists he plans to uphold the agreement.

“The facts are clear,” Rendell wrote in a public letter released by his spokeswoman Friday. “I have consistently supported the Delaware River Main Channel Deepening Project through a commitment to work to find beneficial use and disposal options for the material the United States Army Corps of Engineers places in federally authorized sites.”

Rendell has not indicated he will uphold the section of the May 2007 agreement that says, “Pennsylvania has agreed to accept all spoils material from the Project, except to the extent that New Jersey seeks spoils material for New Jersey port facility projects.”

Delaware Riverkeeper Network spokeswoman Maya van Rossum believe Pennsylvania never intended to honor the agreement to keep the spoils. DRN is a nonprofit advocacy organization that protects the Delaware River.

Under the current plan, most of the spoils will go to federal sites currently used for depositing spoils from routine maintenance dredging. Most of those sites are in Salem County along Delaware River tributaries.

Critics of the deepening plan say dredge spoils could be contaminated by PCBs, heavy metals and remnants of a 2004 oil spill. They also say the project will be a financial waste, pointing to a 2002 Government Accountability Office study that found the project would return less than 50 cents for every dollar invested. The GAO plans to conduct a second study, which is expected to be finished in 2009.

Proponents of the project say it will allow larger ships to access the river’s ports and cut delays for large ships that are limited to moving at high tide. The result, according to Rendell and other supporters, would be the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs.

The Army Corps needs to obtain a dredging permit from Delaware and about another $8 million in funding from the PRPA to award a contract. The total project’s cost was estimated 10 years ago at $349 million, and the Army Corps expects Congress to fund it over an extended period of time.