Dredging doubts grow deeper
Congress declared a moratorium on earmarks to help ensure that funding decisions would be made on the basis of project merit, not political muscle. Now, inexplicably, Pennsylvania's senators are trying to get around the ban to fund the deepening of the De
Congress declared a moratorium on earmarks to help ensure that funding decisions would be made on the basis of project merit, not political muscle. Now, inexplicably, Pennsylvania's senators are trying to get around the ban to fund the deepening of the Delaware River. This is despite reviews, reports, and testimony from Congress' independent investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, calling into question the purported economic benefits of the project.
Deepening the river's shipping channel by 5 feet, to 45 feet, is expected to cost taxpayers $277 million and generate only $13.6 million a year in income at best. However, as a nationally recognized expert documented in a report this month, the project is more likely to lose money.
Meanwhile, the project could cost the region jobs that depend on a healthy, clean Delaware River, such as those in the local oyster industry. Also at risk are wetlands, which protect communities from storm damage, and horseshoe crabs, whose blood is used to detect contamination of vaccines and medical devices.
A recent analysis for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the Water Protection Network shows that deepening would return at most $1.10 for every $1 spent, and more likely would yield a net loss.
In its attempt to justify the project, the Army Corps of Engineers assumed that cargo would be unloaded at the Port of New York/New Jersey and then trucked to Philadelphia if deepening does not proceed. But based on the corps' most recent report on the project, direct, waterborne shipping of goods to Philadelphia would continue to be cost-effective with or without the project.
In fact, the ports of the Philadelphia region have been growing, and new deals have been reached to use vessels that don't require a deeper channel. Moreover, the ports that deepening proponents say we are competing with are already at or will soon reach depths of 50 feet or more, which the Delaware will never be able to reach.
Furthermore, close examination of the Corps of Engineers' justification of the project reveals that all the predicted benefits are based on imports that would benefit foreign rather than local companies. The corps has ignored the recent closure of a local oil refinery, which will further reduce the project's benefits.
Simply put, it appears the corps worked backward to reach a predetermined conclusion - namely, one favoring its deepening project.
To ensure tax dollars are not spent on dubious, politically motivated projects, the federal Office of Management and Budget has required projected returns of at least $2.50 for every $1 spent. The unnecessary deepening of the Delaware will not yield anything close to that. It will, however, exact a heavy cost for the health of the Delaware River and its critical ecosystems, as well as the communities that depend on the river for food, jobs, recreation, storm protection, drinking water, and more.
The legislators trying to skirt the earmark ban to service this project are doing so for reasons that have nothing to do with the interests of the region or the country. There are many other projects - including reducing the federal deficit - that are far more worthy of taxpayer investment.