In the latest round in the bitterly contested deepening of the Delaware River shipping channel, New Jersey and environmental groups criticized the Army Corps of Engineers for pumping sediments from the project into an area that, after a dike broke, caused a discharge into New Jersey wetlands and waters.
The 102.5-mile deepening from 40 feet to 45 feet began March 1 in a 12-mile stretch near Wilmington.
Under order of a federal judge in Delaware, the dredge material was to be taken to the Army Corps' Killcohook disposal facility, part of which lies in Delaware territory. Because of a border quirk, the land is on the New Jersey side of the river.
The corps estimated 2.6 million cubic yards of dredge would be scooped and could go into areas, called cells, adjacent to the river. But an additional 1 million cubic yards, not anticipated, led the contractor, starting Aug. 13, to use a third, unapproved cell at Killcohook. A dike was constructed to ensure that water runoff emptied into the river.
On Aug. 28 the dike failed, and on Aug. 30 water runoff spilled into New Jersey, the corps' chief of operations, Anthony DePasquale, said in recent court documents. The corps has monitored the water quality since the deepening began and said it did not find an elevated level of contaminants.
"There is no reason to expect that the return water discharged into New Jersey waters on Aug. 30 and 31 has resulted in any adverse impacts," DePasquale said. The corps indicated the flow of water had been stopped.
But, late Friday, New Jersey's top environmental regulator, Bob Martin, said inspectors "today found water flowing uncontrolled from the site," elevating concerns about harmful impacts on ecologically sensitive wetlands, or into the Delaware River.
The dredging contractor had stopped pumping the sediment Aug. 31 and will finish the first phase of the deepening by using one of the approved dumping areas, the corps said.
Developments since Aug. 13 prompted strident criticism from New Jersey and environmental groups that have lawsuits pending against the deepening.
Gov. Christie and Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin blasted the corps for violating a court order that restricted the project from New Jersey and failing to disclose the dike problem until this week.
"We will pursue every possible avenue, including legal steps, to make certain the Army Corps is held accountable for these failures," Martin said.
Christie called the situation "completely outrageous and typical of the Army Corps' attitude of barreling ahead with this ill-conceived deepening project with no regard for the environment or the significant questions raised by the State of New Jersey."
Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum said the corps was "acting in bad faith, violating the law, now violating court orders, all in their blind passion to deepen the Delaware River no matter what the harm and what the cost."
Port observers have suggested New Jersey's opposition is aimed at protecting economic interests in the Port of New York and New Jersey. A deeper Delaware River could take away commerce and business from North Jersey.
Proponents say the deepening will create jobs and boost port commerce.
U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson, sitting in Delaware, ruled the deepening could begin in March but limited the dredging and the disposal to Delaware.