Delaware state officials are fighting an ill-timed rearguard action against deepening the shipping channel in the Delaware River up to Philadelphia.
Their denial on Friday of a long-standing request for permits by the Army Corps of Engineers comes just as the $379 million project is about to get underway.
After sitting on the Army Corps request for permits since 2001, Delaware environmental officials rejected them on grounds that the application was out of date.
That sounds like a Catch-22 - penalizing the dredging project because the bureaucrats waited so long to do their job. It's also puzzling on the merits, since Army Corps officials regarded the project as ready to go.
Indeed, the Army Corps has advertised the first bids for the project, which could be awarded in early October.
On the Philadelphia docks, longshoreman jobs are in desperately short supply amid an economic downturn that has all freight traffic suffering.
The contentious bureaucratic battles between Pennsylvania and New Jersey officials are long over, with a 2007 agreement in place to properly dispose of the dredging spoils and cover the local share of the heavily federally funded work.
Given the nation's wider focus on rebuilding key infrastructure assets and spurring the economy with shovel-ready projects, the Delaware River dredging seems even more timely.
As it has been for years, dredging the river is an essential component to promoting the future vitality of the region's ports - particularly in light of competition with New York ports, which are being regularly upgraded.
One industry study estimated that 175,000 direct and indirect jobs will be created from port and infrastructure improvements related to the dredging, meaning that millions of dollars in economic activity will result.
In a sign of renewed interest in port development, the South Jersey Port Corp. on Tuesday teed up the sale of $56 million in bonds to create the first new port on the Delaware in several decades. The deep-water port in Paulsboro will be carved out of a 190-acre former oil and chemical storage site.
The good news on the dredging is that Gov. Rendell, a strong proponent of the project, sees the permit denials by Delaware environmental officials as a temporary setback.
Rendell wisely reached out to Gov. Jack Markell over the weekend, securing the Delaware governor's agreement to conduct a speedy review of a new report on the project's effects on the river.