PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Gov. Tom Corbett released $15 million Wednesday to continue the controversial Delaware River dredging project, which he contends will create jobs and economic development but opponents say will damage the environment.
The funds will allow the Army Corps of Engineers to begin deepening a second segment of the river next month from 40 feet to 45 feet, according to Philadelphia port officials. The extra depth will ensure the city can compete globally by accommodating bigger, more modern ships, they said.
"It's not just $15 million for the port. ... We're sending a signal today that Philadelphia is open for business," said Charles Kopp, chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.
Some environmental groups, along with the states of New Jersey and Delaware, have opposed the dredging, arguing that it could stir up toxic sediment, endanger drinking water supplies and hurt fisheries.
But a federal judge in Delaware ruled last year that the project could go forward, and the digging began in March 2010.
The Corps completed deepening the first 11-mile-long segment of the shipping channel near Delaware City, Del., at the end of 2010, according to the port authority.
The new funding, which officials announced at a news conference at the Packer Marine Terminal in Philadelphia, will allow the dredging to continue along another four miles of the Delaware waterfront.
When it's finished, the five-year project will have cost about $305 million and deepened a 103-mile stretch of the river. The federal government is supposed to fund 65 percent of costs; so far, Pennsylvania has spent $45 million.
Corbett said the deepening could lead to tens of thousands of jobs, both directly and indirectly connected to the port. And he noted that with a major expansion of the Panama Canal expected to be finished in 2014, it's important for Philadelphia to remain competitive not just with Baltimore and New York, but with other countries.
"A deeper river opens the way for world trade — an economic high tide of sorts," said Corbett, who also serves as chairman of the two-state Delaware River Port Authority.
Corbett and Kopp both dismissed environmental concerns on Wednesday, saying the dredging of the first river segment proved such fears unfounded.
Still, New Jersey continues to contest the project. The state filed a petition in May that is pending before a federal appeals court in Philadelphia.
Maya van Rossum, who as the Delaware riverkeeper leads a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting and preserving the river, criticized the decision to devote more funding to the dredging.
"It's very irresponsible and ill-advised considering that the project may never happen," said van Rossum, who said it does not comply with federal environmental laws and still needs state permits. "Throwing money at a project that may never go through to completion is a waste of taxpayer dollars."
Kathy Matheson can be reached at www.twitter.com/kmatheson
- Tom Corbett