Casey calls on Obama to ensure dredging funds

By:  Kathleen Carey

Last June, U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., was sitting next to President Barack Obama in a vehicle headed from Philadelphia International Airport on the way to a city engagement when the senator decided to make a pitch.

He pointed to Delaware River and told the commander in chief, “I want to take a minute to talk to you about this dredging project.”

The topic has remained a priority for Casey.

Last month, the senator sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew asking him to allocate funds in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget so the project could be completed immediately.

“We’re at a critical point now,” Casey said Thursday. “We’re waiting to see what the administration will do.”

In November, Casey and U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Chris Coons, D-Del., filed an amendment to an appropriations bill that would increase the prospects for more federal funding for the river-dredging project.

The project would deepen the Delaware River Channel from 40 feet to 45 feet to allow larger vessels to travel the waterway.

There has been a long-standing impasse between Pennsylvania officials, who have supported the project, and New Jersey representatives, who have launched legal challenges to stop the 103-mile project, which includes 9 miles in Delaware County.

According to estimates by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the project could take at least five years and cost more than $300 million.

Advocates say it could create as many as 125,000 jobs, reduce shipping costs, make maritime transportation more efficient and make the channel safer and more reliable.

Some environmental groups have said dredging would hurt fisheries, endanger an aquifer that supplies drinking water to southern New Jersey and create material that would have to be deposited somewhere.

Once the channel is deepened, it is estimated there would be an increase of 2.5 million tons of cargo to the Port of Philadelphia.

Casey understands that the project includes the coordination of entities like the Army Corps of Engineers and the White House Office of Management and Budget.

In addition, the senator said there have been several phone calls and more than five meetings among his staff members and those of Vice President Joseph Biden. Casey said it’s all part of a concerted effort to get the attention and focus of the administration.

“We were pushing real hard with that funding at the end of the year,” Casey said. “That was a step in the right direction.”