INTERVIEW: Senator Coons Provides Insight into Delaware River Dredging

Senator Coons Provides Insight into Delaware River Dredging.

Delaware River Dredging has been a hot topic over the recent period. Herby we are bringing you an interview with the United States Senator, Chris Coons, who took some time to talk to us and provide invaluable insight into the project.

1. You stated that the deepening of the Delaware River will bring enormous benefits to the state and has the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs in the region. Could you explain this better to our readers in terms of time-framework and projected facts and figures?

We are already seeing signs of job creation and growth as a result of the Delaware River dredging project. I have heard from businesses, labor leaders and private equity companies that they see the Port of Wilmington and the other ports on the Delaware River as perfectly situated to handle more cargo and take advantage of their proximity to major population centers on the East Coast. With the completion of the 45’ channel in the Delaware River, we will see tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs created as ports are expanded, cargo volume increases and people are hired to handle every downstream aspect of what comes in and what goes out.

A study commissioned by the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay estimated that 75,000 direct and indirect jobs will be created by the project, which will generate $1.5 billion a year in wages and salaries and an additional $150 million a year in state and local taxes. It is also estimated that with deepening, ports along the Delaware River will see an annual increase in cargo of 2.5 million tons. The time frame until for seeing these increases is related to the time it takes for new berths to be built and for new vessel service to be established.

Organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Road and Transportation Builders agree that America’s trade volume is expected to double by 2021, and to double again shortly after 2030. Our highways and bridges can’t handle all that additional traffic, so the Port of Wilmington should be ready to handle that additional cargo.

2. During the meeting with Pilots’ Association for the Delaware River & Bay, the topic that was discussed was the impact of Delaware River dredging on maritime traffic, coming into and leaving the Port of Wilmington. Could you tell us something more about the expected impact of the project on the overall port performance?

Port of Wilmington officials, their tenants and largest customers have made clear that this project is essential to remaining competitive. The Army Corps of Engineers issued a report last year showing that the expansion of the Panama Canal will result in larger ships being the dominant type of vessel in East Coast ports by 2020, with cargo loads expected to double or triple by that time. In order for Delaware River ports to be able to take advantage of this increased cargo, the channel must be deepened in order to accommodate the larger vessels.

This project will also help the Port attract private investment. Without this deepening of the Delaware River, it would be extraordinarily difficult to attract the tens of millions of dollars needed to upgrade the Port of Wilmington. With that private investment, Wilmington will be able to expand the number of berths on the Delaware River, handle more ships at once, and modernize storage facilities. This in turn creates good, quality jobs for families in our region.

Delaware River Dredging

3. Opponents to the project argue that dredging will do ecological and economic harm to the river. Are there any indicators to support their argument? What is your opinion about that?

I believe we can move this project forward in order to create good quality jobs while still protecting our environment.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the Army Corps of Engineers have come together to work out a plan for dredging the river in way that will minimize environmental disturbance and prevent harm to any endangered or protected wildlife.

The Army Corps is working closely with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and DNREC to monitor turbidity levels and the presence of wildlife species, including federally listed species like the Atlantic sturgeon, as well as studying any possible disturbance of mating or migratory patterns for these species. So far, the monitoring has not shown any environmental problems with this project since it has begun. In fact, there is even an opportunity to use some of the dredge sediment to nourish coastal wetlands and other habitats in need of sediment. One of the uses for some of the material in the Delaware deepening project will be to fortify beaches with sand from the lower reaches of the project, which will save the Army Corps money, help protect coastal communities from storms and bring tourism dollars to Delaware.

4. The Army Corps of Engineers hopes to complete the entire 102-mile deepening project by 2017. Construction costs alone will reach more than $260 million. Would you mind providing a short cost-benefit analysis of the project for our readers?

The most recent official update to the Army Corps’ economic analysis shows that the anticipated benefit-cost ratio for this project is $1.64 – a return of about $5 for every $3 spent. That’s a deal most readers and business leaders would take any day. If we look at actual dollars instead of percentages, it averages about $14 million in net benefits ($35 million in total benefits less $21 million costs) every year over the next 50 years.

About 80 percent of these benefits derive from the efficiencies of a deeper channel accommodating larger and more fully loaded containerships and dry bulk (steel and slag) vessels, while the balance is associated with reduced lightering by oil tankers. In addition to these direct benefits, there will be broader economic benefits and additional returns for the Delaware Valley, including job creation, additional cargo and tax revenue and more competitive shipping costs.

5. Honorable Senator Coons, being an outspoken advocate for the deepening of the Delaware River, you surely have a very detailed insight into the project. Is there anything else you would like to add, with regard to this issue that we have not touched upon and is in your opinion important to mention?

Deepening the Delaware River is underway thanks to the hard work of industry and labor leaders, as well as local officials in Pennsylvania and Delaware. I am particularly grateful to Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and to President Obama for allowing us to break ground on this important project last year. We are optimistic that his administration will see this project through to completion. It is imperative that we continue to regularly fund this project to provide assurances to investors and commercial interests that it will be completed within a reasonable time frame.

Lastly, I remain committed to finding a permanent fix for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Investing in our infrastructure, including our ports, rivers, harbors, levees and locks is critical to our future economic growth. The American Society of Civil Engineers has reported that in order to accommodate anticipated growth in waterborne traffic, future public spending needs are estimated to total approximately $30 billion by 2020 and $92 billion by 2040. They warn that “the effects of a failure to invest in these vital links to America’s global trading partners could jeopardize these key trading relationships.”

If we don’t dredge and maintain our rivers and ports, our economy will suffer. I encourage the Dredging Contractors of America to continue to remind their legislators in the House and Senate of the need to invest in our ports and rivers and to fix, once and for all, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.


Dredging Today Staff, January 18, 2013