New Jersey sues to halt Army Corps dredge

(Published by The Press of Atlantic City on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009.)

New Jersey sued the U.S. Army Corps on Monday to stop the Corps from deepening the Delaware River shipping channel.

The Attorney General’s Office wants an injunction to stop efforts to deepen from 40 to 45 feet the channel that begins in the Delaware Bay west of Cape May and runs north to the Port of Philadelphia.

New Jersey environmental regulators have pressed the corps to update its environmental analyses. Corps officials say they have the required approvals from New Jersey and plan to proceed without an update.

“Too many corners have been cut for a project of this magnitude to go forward,” New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram said Monday.

Delaware filed a similar lawsuit Friday, a week after Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy gave the corps the go-ahead to start work without environmental permits that Delaware rejected earlier this year. The corps could begin work as soon as December.

Corps spokesman Ed Voigt said his agency was aware of the lawsuit but would not comment on it.

There are several points of dispute.

One is environmental permits. The corps says the agency has the required permits, with the exception of the Delaware permits, which Corps officials still hope to obtain. New Jersey disagrees, saying the corps needs updates on them.

Another is what to do with the dredge spoils. The corps plans for the spoils to be deposited largely at seven federal sites in southwestern New Jersey and one in Delaware. The project’s sponsor, the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, backs the corps’ plan. New Jersey objects, citing a 2007 agreement between Gov. Jon S. Corzine and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell indicating Pennsylvania would take the spoils.

“The Army Corps has decided to go ahead with its completely irresponsible plan to circumvent New Jersey’s strong environmental protection processes and plow blindly ahead with dredging,” Corzine said Monday. “I cannot allow the people of South Jersey to have these dredge spoils dumped on them.”

Therein lies a series of potential contradictions, however.

Corzine criticized the corps for planning to deposit the spoils in New Jersey.

But Corzine believes Rendell’s promise that Pennsylvania will take the spoils, Corzine spokesman Steve Sigmund said.

Pennsylvania will take the spoils only after they go to the New Jersey federal sites first for treatment, according to Rendell’s May 15 letter to Corzine.

“My understanding is it’s ultimately a federal decision,” Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said. “They take it for a while, they dewater it and they decide where to send it.”

The corps plans to use spoils from the Delaware Bay for wetlands remediation and beach replenishment at Delaware’s Broadkill Beach and Kelly Island, Voigt said. If any is left over, it would likely go to Egg Island Point in Downe Township, Voigt said.

What happens long term with the spoils taken from the Delaware River is unknown, Voigt said. Environmentalists fear those spoils will be contaminated.

So the question, according to Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum, is how can Corzine criticize the corps for planning to dump dredge spoils in New Jersey and yet simultaneously accept Rendell’s claim that Pennsylvania will take the spoils?

Van Rossum says Corzine can’t.

“Gov. Rendell is knowingly misrepresenting what’s going to happen here,” van Rossum said. “He keeps repeating the lie here. And nobody is publicly challenging him on this, in terms of political policymakers.”

Van Rossum noted that a 2007 Corzine-Rendell agreement on the deepening included no mention of the spoils making a pit stop in New Jersey before moving on to Pennsylvania, and that wasn’t the intent. That agreement states, “It is understood that to date Pennsylvania has agreed to accept all spoils material from the project, except to the extent that New Jersey seeks spoils materials for New Jersey port facility projects.”

The New Jersey Sierra Club and New Jersey Environmental Federation praised the lawsuit, although they noted it never would have happened had not Corzine agreed to cede the project’s sponsorship to Pennsylvania, which supports the deepening.

“This project is a disaster for the environment and a complete waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This lawsuit is important to uphold the rights of states, its citizens and due process when it comes to environmental protection.”

Environmentalists such as Tittel have opposed the project, saying it doesn’t make economic sense and could stir up contaminants from the riverbed, such as PCBs from past oil spills such as that of the Athos I in 2004. Businesses and trade unions support the deepening, saying it will create jobs by allowing bigger ships with more cargo to travel up the channel.