Just days after a federal judge gave the green light to the 103-mile deepening of the Delaware River main shipping channel, members of Philadelphia's congressional delegation urged the White House to include the $277 million project in President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget.
After an injunction was lifted last month, allowing the deepening - from 40 feet to 45 feet - to proceed to accommodate bigger ships and commerce, the fight now will be over how to pay for it.
The federal government is supposed to pay two-thirds, and Pennsylvania, as local sponsor, about one-third. New Jersey and Delaware, which are opposed on environmental grounds, are paying nothing.
The entire deepening, from Camden to the Atlantic Ocean, is expected to take five to seven years.
In the first 11-mile section of work, completed in September, Pennsylvania spent $26.7 million and the federal government $3 million.
Obama's budget proposal for fiscal 2011 includes no money for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Delaware River an additional five feet.
U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Arlen Specter, both Pennsylvania Democrats, have secured $7 million in a fiscal year 2011 Senate Energy and Water bill for the project. However, Republicans in Congress are pushing for a "continuing resolution" to keep government funding at fiscal year 2010 levels.
At a briefing with Philadelphia port officials here Monday, members of the Pennsylvania delegation were told that $7 million would be needed in August for the next phase of the deepening. And by next December, an additional $30 million in federal funds will be required to complete a 14-mile area, near Marcus Hook, and to begin the next deepening contract, upriver toward Philadelphia.
"We are going to fight very hard to make sure the president and his team understand the essential nature of this project to the region," Casey said. "There are lots of ways to get there. We're going to use every possible strategy and method to get it into the president's budget and certainly try to get something done in this calendar year as well."
Casey said Republicans in the Senate "have made it impossible for us to get Appropriations bills passed this year. We're left with the continuing resolution. That's a place we are working very hard to get this done. The key thing here, the most important element, will be the president's budget."
Casey said he planned to meet with high-ranking officials at the Army Corps and the Office of Management and Budget with the goal of pushing the administration to fund the project.
Meanwhile, dredging opponents in New Jersey, including Gov. Christie, state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D., Gloucester), and Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews, have vowed to use every resource possible, including in Congress, to halt the project.
Pennsylvania officials said Monday the deepening was vital to the region's economy, to the future of the ports in Wilmington, Camden, and Philadelphia, and to creating thousands of jobs.
Most major East Coast ports are at 45 feet depth. The Port of New York and New Jersey is being deepened to 50 feet to allow for larger commercial ships.
U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.) said Andrews and Sweeney "used to play good guy-bad guy" in conversations with him.
"They [Republicans] took our earmarks away," Brady said. "So now we've got to fight to get it in the president's budget. Maybe we can get it in for next year, and maybe in the 'continuing resolution' for this year."
U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.) acknowledged: "It's going to be really tough going. There are not enough dollars at the federal level. We're going to squeeze the budget, see what we can do for this year, and next year as well."