Pennsylvania and New Jersey have come to an agreement over the proposed Delaware River channel-deepening project, clearing the way for the Delaware River Port Authority board to meet tomorrow for the first time in nearly a year and a half.

The deal would make the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority the project sponsor and require Pennsylvania to keep the dredged spoils and seek an environmental impact statement from the Army Corps of Engineers, officials close to the negotiations said today.

It would also release New Jersey from any financial commitments and allow the state to retain its permitting authority, the officials said.

Today, John Matheussen, DRPA chief executive and PATCO president, said, "I'm very pleased to have the board back. We have many capital issues for the DRPA and PATCO to be considered by the board."

Spokespeople for Gov. Rendell and Gov. Corzine were not immediately available for comment.

Rendell, as the DRPA's chairman, had refused to call a board meeting of the agency until New Jersey agreed to deepen the river's shipping channel from 40 to 45 feet along a 103-mile stretch.

Proponents said Philadelphia's ports would be irreparably harmed without the project. They say that increased depth of the river will help spur more ship traffic, and therefore, a more robust economy.

Opponents such as U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) fear that the dredged material would contain environmental hazards and that the project is ill-conceived and too costly.

"The deal as it has been described to us is a bad deal for South Jersey," said Andrews, after learning of the deal. "Because this agreement was negotiated without the consultation of the elected leadership of South Jersey, it calls for New Jersey to support expedited state and federal environmental reviews, and it fails to provide South Jersey absolute assurances that it will not be used as a dumping ground for Pennsylvania's dredge spoils."

Environmental organizations have called for New Jersey state legislators to hold hearings to investigate how the deal was made and how it will affect citizens, as well as the environment, economy and ports of New Jersey.

Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, a Bristol-based advocacy organization, said today that "this deal moves New Jersey out of the driver's seat where it could prevent this harmful project.

"We are now in the back seat, providing comments which will undoubtedly be ignored," said van Rossum. "Despite efforts to spin this agreement to make it seem protective of New Jersey, it comes down to a political deal allowing Pennsylvania to control the River, moving forward one of the most controversial and dangerous projects our communities face. "

Jane Nogaki of the New Jersey Environmental Federation said that "this project is not just about dredge spoils as project supporters like to claim, it is about protecting New Jersey's drinking water, environment and jobs."

Sharon Finlayson, board chariman of the NJEF, added: "It is about Governor Corzine's commitment to protect our communities and environment in a way we can respect and trust, without back door deals and by putting the needs of other states first."

Opponents of the project plan to attend the DRPA meeting at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at the DRPA headquarters at One Port Center, 2 Riverside Drive in Camden.

Contact Staff Writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com. To comment, or to ask a question, go to http://go.philly.com/askcolimore.