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Officials hail $20 million to dredge

by MARC LEVY Associated Press on April 11, 2013 10:30 AM

HARRISBURG — President Barack Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget proposal includes another $20 million to continue a Delaware River deepening project, Pennsylvania and Delaware members of Congress said Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said the proposal is a crucial step in the decades-long process that could ensure the project is finished.

He characterized the quest for funding as a long and difficult one, requiring numerous conversations with Vice President Joe Biden and the president, and called the economic opportunity to southeastern Pennsylvania the biggest that he knows of.

“I’m just glad that the vice president and the administration listened to my arguments on this because it’s critically important to the southeast,” Casey said. “There’s no more important economic development opportunity in all of southeastern Pennsylvania than this deepening.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is deepening a 103-mile stretch by five feet, to 45 feet, to accommodate larger commercial ships.

Pennsylvania’s governors and members of Congress have long supported it as a way to bring more commerce to the Port of Philadelphia, but Delaware and New Jersey officials have been circumspect.

More recently, Delaware’s current members of Congress have supported funding for the project as a boost to the Port of Wilmington, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has opposed it.

“Delaware’s maritime trade supports our state’s economy by expanding commerce and creating high-quality jobs,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said in a statement.

Dredging began in 2010, with crews working section by section.

Business groups and labor unions support it, and Congress first authorized the deepening project in 1992. Ed Voigt, a spokesman for the Philadelphia district office of the U.S. Army Corps Engineers, said about half the channel will be at the required depth of 45 feet or more, once the work on an existing contract is finished. After that, finishing the project will require another approximately $180 million in largely federal money, Voigt said.

Environmental groups protest that the sediment stirred up by the dredging could be contaminated with toxic chemicals that will pollute the river, harm the fish population, salt marshes and flood control. Construction costs will be hundreds of millions of dollars, and some critics say it may not attract the amount of cargo to justify such a large taxpayer investment.

Last summer, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia rejected an appeal from environmental groups and the state of New Jersey that challenged the dredging project. The court said the dredging does not violate federal environmental laws.

Casey said the project has won commitments of $95 million since he joined the Senate in 2007.

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