There is no question that the Delaware River is not the busy shipping channel it once was, but is an extensive dredging project with a 9-figure price tag really the best way to revitalize it? Punctuated by the closing of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1995, the Delaware has experienced a decades-long decline in traffic. For almost 20 years, the battle over dredging the river has raged on.
Following a ruling by a federal judge last month, the Army Corps of Engineers was ready last week to begin the project. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and several environmental groups have expressed concerns over the environmental and economic impact of the dredging. Work has been delayed while the appeals court hears a case from five environmental groups seeking to block the project, and this court should strongly consider overturning the ruling made in January.
The environmental impact of this project is unquestionable. The Army Corps of Engineers plans to dispose of the dredged-up soil in South Jersey, but the last time these sediments were tested for quality was over a decade ago. Without up-to-date data, the Army Corps should be finding it difficult to provide a reasonable estimate of the effects the dredging project would have on the ecology of South Jersey. Instead, they propose to more forward as is, already seeking approval for remaining sections of the river. As Christie noted, “It is irresponsible for the Army Corps to push this dredging project forward.” The Army Corps of Engineers and local governments should be taking time to more carefully assess the environmental impact this project will have on the Delaware River Valley.
The emphasis on this renewed push to begin the dredging has much to do with the current economy – proponents assert that deepening the river will attract larger shipping companies, whose ships have deeper drafts, thus bringing much-needed jobs to the region. I do not disagree with this point. However, it seems like the costs and benefits have not been properly analyzed. The project is currently expected to cost about 300 million dollars. With the number of organizations, governments and interests involved, it is likely that this figure will become larger as the project wears on. The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey are virtually drowning under their budget woes, freezing spending in some areas and issuing large budget cuts in others. The federal government will be unlikely to provide much aid, with the national debt growing exponentially and the current administration fixated on healthcare reform. It is unreasonable to say the potential economic gains will outweigh the great monetary cost of this project at this time.
In the long run, deepening the Delaware River will likely attract more companies, and jobs to the region. Similar projects have been undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers in other shipping lanes around the country, including North Jersey / New York a few years ago. However, as Governor Christie noted, it seems as though this particular project is not being treated with the same environmental caution as in New York. Done properly, dredging the Delaware can certainly bring economic benefits to the region without harming the environment. Proper caution cannot be exercised without recent, reliable data, one thing that seems to be missing from the planning of this project. I am not saying that environmental and marine science groups need to spend another decade analyzing sediment samples, migratory fish patterns, etc. But this project should not proceed until there is a clear picture of what harm will come to local environments and what economic benefits will come to the region. Old data are unreliable for forecasting environmental impact. Creation of jobs is far from guaranteed. The facilities for naval transport in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Camden have all deteriorated after years of sitting vacant or being underused. Large companies like Hanjin and Maersk will not want to spend the funds needed to rehabilitate docking facilities.
The Army Corps of Engineers and local planning councils have a good idea in dredging the Delaware, but hasty initiation and haphazard planning will undoubtedly lead to a project that does not achieve the goals it was designed for, while harming the local environment in the process. Proponents of deepening the channel should continue to assert the economic benefits of the plan, while coming up with a better way of disposing of the waste.
James Onofrio is a senior at Council Rock High School North who does not approve of the current plan to deepen the Delaware River
In a society that is defined by its constant innovations, a single second wasted is one more second that could have been spent on progress. The strain of such a fast paced culture has taken a toll on the mindsets of the population. Specifically, one of these mindsets relates to the necessity of convenience in our everyday lives. Yet, these seemingly small conveniences, in the form of plastic bags at the local grocery store or paper cups and cardboard cup holders at Starbucks, pose large inconveniences to the environment by excess accumulation in our nation’s landfills. Landfills have become a pressing issue, and I firmly believe that reluctance to change one’s lifestyle is the main concern to address in order to remediate the situation
The problem with landfills is that they require vast amounts of land. Finding new sites that are not in the backyards of citizen’s homes and don’t require deforestation is an arduous task. An increase in the amount of trash produced only intensifies demand of having to find new sites to construct landfills. Estimates show that a 120 foot deep by 44 square mile landfill will be needed to house America’s garbage production for the next thousand years. For a better idea of the size of this, the landfill would need to be the size of roughly three Oklahoma cities. We should keep in mind, however, that the rate of waste production is increasing and therefore, the size of the landfill needed will directly correlate. In addition, a landfill can receive as much as 2000 tons of garbage per day and the average production of waste per person is approximately 4.5 pounds per day (Landfills 2010). Another problem with landfills is that leaking can occur and chemicals find their way into our surface water, causing human health defects as well as taking a toll on our aquatic ecosystems.
I have already established why landfills are a problem for our nation; however making people aware of the issue is only half the battle. Trying to convince people to live a more sustainable lifestyle in order to prevent the harmful effects of excess waste production and landfills has proven to have little success due to the fact that people are set in their ways and unwilling to give up conveniences that make life easier. Just a few weeks ago I was eating lunch in my school dining hall with some friends when I noticed one of my friends was drinking from a paper cup when there were plenty of reusable cups readily available for his use. When I inquired as to why he was using a paper cup, he responded with the fact that he didn’t like to use cups that everyone else in the school has used before him. This same friend also insisted on bringing his own salad dressing in a plastic container everyday to the dining hall simply because he didn’t like the ones that were already provided. Similarly, people insist on producing more trash to put into our landfills simply because it provides a convenience for themselves.
There are many opposed to this concept of reducing waste production. One argument, in response to a ban on plastic bags, is based in economic reasoning and can be applied to things other than plastic bags. The concern is that if the nation becomes more sustainable, there may be a loss of many jobs for those that work in industries producing disposable plastic and paper products. Another reason is that you cannot take away a citizen’s rights to use a particular item (Debate 2010).
These points are good counter-arguments to reducing waste and are certainly valid; however, it is necessary to find a common ground so that we can maintain environmental and economic stability simultaneously. Incentives can be established that include a reduced price on things such as coffee or groceries if the customer uses reusable coffee mugs or tote bags and tax cuts if a person’s garbage is under a certain weight. It is also true that a decrease in demand for plastic and paper products may result in a decrease in jobs, but the loss in jobs could be replaced by “greener” jobs such as producing reusable materials or turning what may seem like garbage into something useful. We cannot force people to change their habits or use particular products, but by providing education on the issue as well as incentives may make reducing waste a more tempting option for individuals to choose using their own free will. Nina Joffe is a sophomore environmental science student at Rider University and is currently partaking in undergraduate research to investigate salamander and algae symbionts that reside on Rider campus.
Nina Joffe is a student at Rider University.
Debate: Should Plastic Bags Be Banned?
http://debatewise.org/debates/1011-should-plastic-bags-be-banned(accessed February 28, 2010).
Landfills. http://www.iun.edu/~environw/landfills.html (accessed February 28, 2010).