The Army Corps is soliciting comment on the Delaware River Deepening project. Their public notice, issued June 6, allows only 15 days for comment. So we all need to act fast. The Deepening threatens pollution, habitat destruction, drinking water, a wide array of fish, communities with growing piles of toxic dredge spoils, and putting a number of key species over the edge into extinction including sturgeon and shorebirds. And there is no economic justification — even the Government Accountability Office has challenged and questioned, three times, the value of this project.
Please comment today.
More background on the issue
For years, agencies and environmental experts relying on sound scientific principles have documented the depth and breadth of the threats that deepening the River poses. The Corps’ data and its findings are often at odds with that of other scientists. Those questioning the project include: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the University of Delaware’s Sea Grant Program, and more.
A variety of state and federal agencies representing the communities and environments of the Delaware River are on record questioning and challenging this project. New Jersey and Delaware permits, approvals and support have not issued to the deepening project for good reasons, after careful and informed consideration, analysis, and review.
Environmentally, deepening the channel changes the movement and balance of fresh and salt water in a way that will move the salt line up river, threatening drinking water supplies and economically important oyster populations. A multitude of species rely on the Delaware River for spawning; a changing salt line could diminish available freshwater spawning grounds that put at risk species like the Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon already in jeopardy of extinction. A changing salt line also risks the transformation of freshwater marshes, damaging the food and habitat they provide to a variety of fish and wildlife species important both ecologically and economically to the region.
According to experts, the deepening project and associated spoil disposal will introduce heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxins into the River, reintroducing them into the environment and food chain, and putting at risk drinking water aquifers important to communities in New Jersey and Delaware.
A moving salt line is also a major threat to the oyster populations of the Delaware Estuary. The shifting salt line threatens significant changes, including the reintroduction of parasites and disease to the River’s oysters that in the past decimated these populations. Oysters are vital to the ecology of the Delaware. Oysters act as a vital food source for many of the River’s creatures and are important filters for pollution found in Estuary waters.
The Delaware Bay is home to the largest spawning population of horseshoe crabs in the world. Every season, migratory shorebirds descend on Delaware Bay to feast on the eggs of the horseshoe crabs. The deepening project directly threatens the horseshoe crabs and their ability to successfully spawn in key areas in Delaware and, as a result, poses unacceptable threats to migratory birds already in decline because of a lack of needed horseshoe crab eggs.
Deepening would change water patterns in such a way that it will exacerbate erosion of wetlands. Wetlands are important ecologically, aesthetically and provide important protection during catastrophic storm events.
And economically the project also cannot be justified. The Government Accountability Office has three times challenged the claims of economic benefit from deepening – with the most recent report issuing in April 2010.
The Army Corps is soliciting comment on the Delaware Deepening project. Their public notice, issued June 6, allows only 15 days for comment. So we all need to act fast. And while the Corps attempts to limit the call for comment to a very few issues, this is the only opportunity the public, agencies and experts have been given to address the Army Corps’ claims that the deepening does not need to be reevaluated in a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) taking into consideration all of the new science, facts, river changes and project changes that have come to light since the last EIS was issued 14 years ago in 1997.
So please, take the time to make your voice heard, to demand more time for our agencies, experts and involved organizations to comment, and to demand a full, complete, up to date, and scientifically accurate Environmental Impact Statement is finally issued for this project.
Since the last Environmental Impact Statement was conducted for the deepening in 1997 the experts, agencies and elected representatives of our region have been raising questions and concerns about this project – among them (but by no means limited to) concerns about how the deepening will threaten drinking water supplies with salt water intrusion and aquifers with toxic contamination; about how it will harm the essential marshlands and wetlands of the Delaware Estuary; about reintroducing toxins and heavy metals into the River and ecosystems directly and from spoil disposal plans; about exposing raptors, wildlife and fish to toxic and heavy metal pollution; about harms to oysters, horseshoe crabs, saballaria vulgaris and dependent sportfish as well as weakfish; about harms to Atlantic and Shortnose Sturgeon both recognized as endangered in our River, with Shortnose already officially designated as endangered and Atlantic about to be; and about subjecting our south Jersey and Delaware communities to piles of toxic dredge spoils that science is documenting are a source of pollution to our River and waterways.
Among the issues of most recent concern:
• Documents and scientific analysis from the National Marine Fisheries Service have demonstrated that the proposed deepening, along with its dredging, blasting, and changes to the Delaware River salt line could be the project that wipes from the planet the genetically-unique Atlantic Sturgeon that live in the Delaware River.
• Science newly out from Delaware documents that the Kelly Island and Broadkill Beach spoil disposal plans that are part of the project would likely have a detrimental effect on horseshoe crab spawning habitat and impede horseshoe crab egg development. Horseshoe crab populations in the Delaware River are already at significantly depressed levels, as much as 75% what they were decades ago; and as a result migratory shorebirds like the Red Knot rufa who depend upon the horseshoe crab eggs to fuel their spring migration are also in massive decline, and approaching extinction. Delaware’s experts have also demonstrated that the Army Corps’ contrary claims of benefit from these spoil disposal plans are false.
• New Jersey has, just in the past month, documented the pollution generated from Army Corps’ disposal of spoils in confined disposal facilities, as well as the failing science the Army Corps has attempted to use to assert a contrary claim of no harm.
For 14 years experts, agencies, and well-informed members of the public have demonstrated the new science, facts, river changes and information that warrant a new, up-to-date, complete and scientifically accurate Environmental Impact Statement. Even the Government Accountability Office has weighed in three times challenging the claims of economic benefits asserted by the Corps for this project.
As a member of the public that appreciates and depends upon a healthy Delaware River and all the benefits it provides to our region and nation environmentally, economically, recreationally, for storm protection, for drinking water, and for the health and quality of our lives, I would like to go on the record: that a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is clearly required by law before this project could move forward. The 1997 EIS is clearly deficient and misrepresents the elements and impacts of the proposed Delaware River deepening.
I also urge the Army Corps to provide a full 60 days for public, agency and expert comment to ensure that the Army Corps receives the most full and accurate compilation of comment it needs to consider its decision about doing this new and needed EIS.