by guest blogger, Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper
For more than 20 years, my organization, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and I have been challenging the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to deepen the Delaware River’s main channel by 5 feet for 102 miles, from Philadelphia to the Ocean. And in the next few days, President Obama is going to decide whether or not to spend our tax dollars on this project by including it in his 2013 presidential budget. But, deepening the Delaware River could devastate communities that depend on this fragile ecosystem for jobs; it would destroy the habitat for countless populations of fish, shellfish, and migratory birds; and it will damage the wetlands that for years have provided safety from catastrophic storms.
We have found ourselves, a nonprofit organization, representing the citizens, fisherfolk, boaters, birders, and river communities and facing off against the mammoth agency that is the Army Corps of Engineers, along with big corporations who favor the project.
For years the Delaware River deepening project has been kept alive with funding through the congressional earmark process, with a few Pennsylvania politicians keeping it on the taxpayer infusion line. Since last year’s ban on congressional earmarks will cut off the corporate welfare fund for this project, these very same politicians have lobbied for creation of a “slush” fund that can be used to fund congressional pet projects such as this one, and they are also trying to twist the arm of President Obama with direct lobbying and heavy-handed messaging to force him to fund the project through his presidential budget.
Since President Obama has made jobs and community health a political priority, he should soundly reject the Delaware River deepening. Here are a few reasons why:
- Deepening jeopardizes jobs. The jobs that depend upon a healthy and clean Delaware River would be threatened if the Army Corps has its way. Jobs in the oyster industry, for example, would be disrupted, and these jobs generate 80 million dollars of income and economic return every year. That’s income for everyday Americans who use that hard-earned money to support their families and their communities.
- Deepening damages the wetlands. Wetlands help protect communities from storm damage, and deepening the Delaware will cause the river to erode away these amazing natural areas.
- Deepening threatens wildlife. Horseshoe crabs from the Delaware River provide an essential national function: their blood (drawn non-lethally) contains a substance needed to test vaccines used across the country to make sure they are free of contamination. Horseshoe crab spawning success is also critical for successful migration of many species of birds, including four already on the path to extinction. The migratory bird and horseshoe crab phenomenon generates $34 million annually from ecotourism in the region.
- Deepening destroys the health of the river. Dredging the bottom of the river and disposing of these contaminated “spoils” on land will cause the reintroduction of toxins and heavy metals long held captive in sediments on the river floor.
In these and other ways, deepening the Delaware violates our obligation as good stewards of the earth, and threatens the health of our communities. Congress’ independent investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, has challenged claims that deepening will benefit businesses in the area, and even the Army Corps has said it will not bring increased goods up the river. Army Corps documents confirm that the ports of the region can be equally served at the current 40-foot depth, and likely for less cost. Deepening, however, will cost taxpayers $277 million, and according to a nationally recognized expert, will likely lose taxpayer money.
For all of these reasons, President Obama should not provide any funding to deepen the Delaware River. His decision as to whether or not to do so is being made within the next few days as he prepares to release his proposed presidential budget. It is critial that he decide to keep the Delaware River deepening out of his proposed budget. So please, take a moment to let the president know that deepening the Delaware is not how you want your tax dollars spent.
Sign our letter to the president today to say, “No funding for the Delaware River Deepening—it hurts the environment, it hurts people, and it hurts jobs.”And share this link with as many people as you can. Our voices, together, can make a difference.
To learn more about the project, go to www.delawareriverkeeper.org
Maya K. van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper, and has lead the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) since 1994. The DRN is a regional nonprofit advocacy organization that monitors the river and all of its tributaries for threats and challenges, and advocates, educates and, litigates for protection, restoration, and change.