Federal Court Gives Delaware River Dredging Go-ahead
Long-delayed deepening of Delaware Ship Channel allowed to proceed, Wilmington to become accessible by bigger ships
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia has ruled in favor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which has begun to dredge the 102-mile channel but whose work was threatened by a lawsuit from the State of New Jersey and five environmental groups which sought to block the project on the grounds that it would cause ecological and economic harm to wildlife and wetlands.
The plaintiffs argued that the Army Corps had failed to do a thorough environmental assessment of the project as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and had violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). But the court upheld earlier rulings by district courts in Delaware and New Jersey that the Army Corps had not violated its duty under the federal laws.
The court said it was convinced by the Corps’ arguments that it did not need to obtain special permits from Delaware and New Jersey in order to proceed with dredging, and it rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the Corps violated a section of the Clean Water Act.
The project’s supporters say that deepening the channel to 45 feet from 40 feet will allow local ports to take the bigger ships that are expected to start using the Panama Canal when its widening is completed as scheduled in 2014. That will put economically vital ports like Wilmington on an equal footing with others in the region such as Baltimore and New York which can already take ships with deeper keels.