Despite the opposition of environmental groups, a regional commission that oversees water issues in the Delaware River basin added its nod Wednesday to two major industrial projects in the region.
It approved the expansion of Philadelphia International Airport, a $6.4 billion project that involves filling wetlands and a portion of the river, and the upgrade of a large power line that will cross the river at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in northeastern Pennsylvania.
The commission also denied a petition asking it to exercise broad review of all natural-gas line projects in the region, and it denied a request to hold hearings on three of the projects.
The two approvals passed unanimously, with no discussion or comment by the five members of the Delaware River Basin Commission other than a brief reassurance by New Jersey's representative, Michele Siekerka.
The assistant commissioner for water-resources management with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Siekerka said that DEP staff "spent considerable time" evaluating the power-line project and that protection measures were in the state documents.
The $1.2 billion project, named the Susquehanna-to-Roseland transmission line for the substations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that it would connect, would cross 72 miles of land in the river basin.
It would involve replacing towers with monopole or lattice structures as high as 200 feet, plus widening the right of way and construction of temporary and permanent access roads.
The airport expansion includes constructing buildings, roads, runway extensions, and other projects. It involves dredging a portion of the river and filling in nearly 130 acres of open water and wetlands.
The project still needs permission from other agencies, including the Pennsylvania DEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
When the measure passed, Maya van Rossum, the Delaware riverkeeper, said she was "stunned." Given the effects of Hurricane Sandy and rising sea level, she said, she disagreed with the plan to build new floodplain. She also said the scientific documentation the commission was relying on was outdated.
The pipeline petition, filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and signed by more than 50 other environmental advocacy organizations, sought to have the commission exercise jurisdiction over all natural-gas pipeline projects in the river basin. The petition noted that four pipeline projects had been built since 2011, seven more were planned, and there was potential for six more.
Pennsylvania's representative, Kelly Jean Heffner, deputy DEP secretary for water management, said that the commission's rules "do not allow the broad jurisdiction" the group sought, but that they do "provide for project review on a case-by-case basis."