Gov. Rendell delighted port workers yesterday by not only green-lighting the long-delayed plan to dredge the Delaware River, but also proposing plans to rehab and expand the ports.
Rendell and the other Pennsylvania representatives on the Delaware River Port Authority had been boycotting the agency's meetings in an effort to force New Jersey officials to agree to the dredging. The DRPA met yesterday for the first time since November 2005.
Rendell held two news conferences yesterday - one at DRPA headquarters in Camden, the other at the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA), at Delaware Avenue and Tioga Street.
First, Rendell announced that he had signed off on the controversial Delaware River dredging project, which will be undertaken by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority to deepen the river channel from 40 to 45 feet.
The dredging is necessary, he said, so that Philadelphia and New Jersey ports can remain competitive with the other ports on the Eastern Seaboard, many of which have already been deepened and are now attracting the shipping customers that local ports crave.
But environmental advocates oppose the project. They say digging up debris and sediment would release dangerous chemicals and harm aquatic species including oysters and crabs. The dredging also would allow saltwater to move farther up the river, posing a threat to drinking-water supplies, they say.
The dredging controversy dates back many years and culminated last year when Rendell froze the bistate authority's budget, canceled meetings and threatened other reprisals if New Jersey continued to refuse to go along with the dredging plan.
Becca Glenn, of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter, said the group was disappointed that New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine had yielded on the issue. "We see that as selling out the interest of New Jersey for the limited benefit of Pennsylvania," Glenn said.
Yesterday in New Jersey, Rendell also announced:
_ Pennsylvania will receive 100 percent of the dredge spoils, meaning that anything dug up and removed from the dredging will be Pennsylvania's responsibility;
_ Funding for the expansion of New Jersey Transit's lines to Gloucester County and into Philadelphia;
_ New Jersey and Pennsylvania will split equally the existing $38.5 million dredge fund, which will go toward strengthening the infrastructure of ports on the Delaware River.
Rendell said he and the board were awaiting the Army Corps of Engineers' latest environmental-impact study, which should be received soon. That is one of the last hurdles of this project.
Rendell defended the plan by saying that the two port authorities will dredge the channel every year to maintain the 45-foot depth.
The river must be deepened to remain relevant, he said.
He also cited his record on environmental issues, and said the dredging program would cause minimal harm to the environment. He said he would ensure that the process is as minimally disruptive as possible.
At the second news conference, Rendell described the immediate and long-term impact the project would have on Philadelphia.
He said the state is ready to move on a $300 million investment in the PRPA, which will include, among other things:
_ Upgrading the infrastructure and expanding the sites of Piers 38 and 40, Christian Street; Pier 80, Snyder Avenue; and Pier 82, Oregon Avene;
_ Building a 100,000-square-foot warehouse for the Chilean fruit business at the Tioga Marine Terminal, at Tioga Street;
_ Building a 200,000-square-foot warehouse at the Pier 74 Annex at Snyder Avenue for storage of paper products;
_ Building two new gentry cranes and expanding the refrigerated warehouse at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, at Oregon Avenue;
_ Demolishing the old Pier 80 warehouse at Snyder Avenue and building a new one.
Rendell also said the Food Distribution Center, which was set to move to the Navy Yard, will undergo a study to see where else it could be situated. This would free up more crucial space for the port expansion.