Report criticizes Delaware River dredging plan

Two environmental groups say dredging would stir up heavy met­als, pesticides and other toxins on the bottom of the river and threat­en wildlife.

By By GEOFF MULVIHILL ----- Associated Press Writer

    MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — A report released Tuesday by two environmen­tal groups says deepening the ship­ping channel on a stretch of the Delaware River would be bad for the environment and unwise economical-l­y.
    A standoff between politicians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey over the proposed dredging has been going on for 15 months and, according to one official, cost taxpayers in the states nearly $9 million.
    Environmentalists say the report from the National Wildlife Federation and the Delaware Riverkeeper Net­work affirms the claims they have made about dredging for the past 17 years.
    The report says dredging would stir up heavy metals, pesticides and other toxins at the bottom of the river and threaten wildlife, including horseshoe crabs, shortnose sturgeon and bald eagles. The study also suggests the economic impact of dredging would be less than the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects.
    Tom Groff, project manager for the Corps of Engineers, said Tuesday that independent reviews have backed up his agency.
    U.S. Rep Rob Andrews, D-N.J., a critic of the dredging plan, said a bet­ter way to expand business at Philadelphia-area ports would be improving and expanding piers, roads, rail lines and warehouses.
    The dredging cannot move forward unless Pennsylvania and New Jersey agree on it. The federal government would pick up most of the cost of the project, estimated to be between $300 million and $500 million.
    Top officials in New Jersey oppose the project while Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell supports it steadfastly. “We believe dredging the Delaware is the single most important project for the future of the Philadelphia and South Jersey ports,” said Rendell spokesman Douglas Rohanna.
    Rendell and the other Pennsylvania representatives on the Delaware River Port Authority, which runs ports, bridges and a commuter train line in the Philadelphia area, have been boy­cotting the agency’s meetings since December 2005 in an effort to force New Jersey officials to agree to the dredging.
    Without participation of any of the eight Pennsylvania members, the eight-member New Jersey delegation cannot take any official action. As a result, the agency has not adopted new budgets for 2006 or 2007.
    Chief Executive Officer John J. Matheussen said Tuesday that the toll of not meeting is adding up. Because the DRPA was unable to refinance its debt, as it was planning at the end of 2005, it has spent $8.7 million it oth­erwise would have saved, he said. And while small and emergency repairs to the bridges and PATCO Speedline can be approved without a board vote, Matheussen said some important bigger projects — such as redecking the Walt Whitman Bridge and finishing painting the Ben Franklin Bridge — are on hold
    On the Net: The report:

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