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Monica Yant Kinney | The lowdown on dredging: High doubts

In keeping with the promise that dredging the Delaware River and extending the PATCO High-Speed Line will change local life as we know it in two states, I'll make a couple of predictions.

In keeping with the promise that dredging the Delaware River and extending the PATCO High-Speed Line will change local life as we know it in two states, I'll make a couple of predictions.

I will swim the Delaware before that river grows an inch deeper.

As for commuting on PATCO from Washington Township to Washington Square? You could start now on hands and knees and still beat that train.

I hate to be cynical so soon after Michael Nutter's reform victory in the Philadelphia mayoral primary last week, but this is the Delaware River Port Authority we're talking about.

These deals have about as much chance of commencing on budget or on schedule as you do getting a refund for a lifetime of bridge tolls.

A few things I've learned from covering a few too many of these self-made political crises:

Any impasse that ends with both sides claiming victory usually means only the bond lawyers won.

Any 17-month fight that paralyzed a bistate agency - only to be solved suddenly, in secret - was nothing more than a boyish stunt by two governors with a combined age of 123.

And any news conference on a dry subject like port development that ends with a chorus of union guys chanting "Rendell for president" strongly suggests this lame duck may have some swim left in him.

It's all good, whatever it is

Officially, neither Jon Corzine nor Ed Rendell cried uncle.

Technically, New Jersey remains opposed to - and a little frightened by - the idea of deepening the river so that bigger ships can do bigger business.

But as long as Jersey doesn't have to pay for it or get stuck with the muck, Corzine said: "Go ahead, Ed. Just don't call me when the environmentalists drag you into court."

Technically, Rendell didn't commit Pennsylvania to shouldering all the cost and risk on a project that, by his own estimate, will lead to $80,000-a-year jobs for Camden residents and even fatter paychecks for the 40 percent of local longshoreman who work in Philly but live in South Jersey.

It's all good, whatever it is.

For a moment, at least.

Both John Estey (port authority chairman and Rendell's adviser and designee) and Jeffrey Nash (Corzine's guy and the authority's vice chairman) acknowledged that dredging is an incredibly complicated proposition that any one of three states can block.

"Veto is the wrong word," Nash said, without offering a better one.

And even though Rendell claims to be the greenest of governors, groups like the Delaware Riverkeeper and Sierra Club are already drafting legal briefs on recycled paper to save the river from the government.

"Somebody can sue," Estey acknowledged. "We're not naive."

Roiling on the river

So was it all a giant political publicity stunt so two governors could save face and stop the roiling on the river?

Will you and I live to hop a fast train in Thorofare, then hitch a ride on a big ship on the Delaware?

Nash doesn't like the tone of my question. The port authority's New Jersey delegation, he reminds me, has always said the PATCO extension would take "seven to 10 years to accomplish."

And, Estey adds, "dredging has always been a 121/2- to 15-year project."

Since these are government projects, multiply both estimates by two or three.

By my math, that gives 20 to 30 years for me to work on my crawl.

This just in

In an unrelated matter, an update to last week's column about Chester County military mom Margie Miller:

Miller called me in her quest to get Baghdad (where her Army lieutenant son resides) and Kabul (a place other mothers worry about) added to The Inquirer's international weather listings as part of our coverage of the war on terror.

It seemed like a no-brainer. It was.

As of Tuesday, readers can follow the highs and lows in both cities, where tens of thousands of American soldiers are stationed.

And in a bonus, Auckland, New Zealand - briefly bumped off the chart for Baghdad - is back. If only diplomacy were that simple.