By Representatives Patrick Meehan and Bob Brady
To the times:
The Delaware River is a vital artery that powers much of the commerce in the Pennsylvania-Delaware-New Jersey corridor. Cargo vessels carrying everything from fruits and vegetables to construction materials travel these waterways daily. The ports contribute to an estimated 75,000 jobs in our region. Yet, as the only port on the East Coast restricted to a 40-foot shipping channel, our region is put at a disadvantage. As ships get bigger, the access to our docks is getting comparatively smaller. Commerce in and out of our region will decline and lessen our ability to compete in a global economy. Thousands of jobs and the economic growth of our region depend on this deepening project.
In 1992, Congress authorized funds for an Army Corps of Engineers project to deepen the existing Delaware River Main Shipping Channel from 40 to 45 feet. Yet, 20 years later, Congress has appropriated only $4 million for the project. Although deepening the channel has the broad support of labor and business groups, both Democrats and Republicans, Gov. Corbett and before him former Gov. Rendell -- the project had stalled.
This year state and federal leaders from Delaware and Pennsylvania have made this project a priority, recognizing the economic and job creation benefits to our region. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania directed $15 million for the project on top of the $26.5 million the state has previously directed to the project. We are proud to report that this week the House of Representatives approved an additional $29.4 million towards completing the project.
According to a recent Army Corps of Engineers economic analysis, every dollar spent on the deepening project will yield $1.64 in economic benefits to the region. It's not often that you see an investment with that great of a return.
There is more than job and economic benefits. The deepening project will widen many of the channel bends for easier and safer navigation, improving the safety of the thousands of men and women who work on the river and at these ports every day.
Critics of the deepening project cite environment concerns. In the course of years of litigation, two federal judges have ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers complied with all federal environmental laws. A November 2011 report by Versar, Inc. on completed deepening work found that it "resulted in no adverse water quality impacts with respect to toxics, and in fact removes far more contaminant from the river than it liberates, thus providing for an overall net benefit to the water quality of the river."
The future of the economy along the Delaware River and throughout our region depends on the deepening project. It will create and sustain thousands of jobs, bring enormous economic benefits to our region, and improve safety along the ports -- all while protecting the environment.
The House has acted and now we look forward to the Senate to do the same. We will stay committed until we see this project through to the finish line. Thousands of jobs and the economic growth of our region depend on it.