U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady announced on Friday that funding is complete for the Delaware River Deepening Project — a project 25 years in the making.
The Army Corps of Engineers will provide $29.25 million in its Fiscal Year 2017 Work Plan for the project.
Back in 1992, Congress first authorized the deepening of the channel from 40 to 45 feet, but the project was stalled over the years due to political and legal roadblocks.
“Meanwhile, ships serving the ports were getting bigger and were either forced to lighten their loads before coming into Philadelphia and or worst case, finding other ports of call, putting the Philadelphia port at a tremendous disadvantage,” said Jerry Sweeney, chairman of PhilaPort at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal on Friday.
The project, along with dredging, includes four new electric cranes to load and offload larger ships and relocating warehouses to accommodate the new container traffic, Sweeney added.
The business created by the deeper channel and a modernized port is expected to more than triple the port’s annual revenue, and will also generate an estimated 7,000 jobs.
“That’s a great piece of news and ultimately that it was it’s really all about, how we make both Philadelphia and Pennsylvania more competitive in both the national and international landscape,” Sweeney said. “The deepening of this channel is a clear signal to the rest of the world’s economic community that we are ready to move forward.”
Senator Casey recalls getting a moment to discuss the dredging project with former President Barack Obama in 2011 when he was visiting Philadelphia.
Casey added that former Vice President Joe Biden also helped bring this project to fruition.
“This is one of those days and one of those moments where we can actually make predictions that are reasonable, that are logical and that I think are very likely to happen,” Casey said. “We will make predictions and I will make predictions today about job creation because of dredging.”
“Thousands of jobs will be retained because of the investment here,” he added.
In November 2016, Gov. Tom Wolf announced a $300 million investment plan for the Philadelphia port. The Army Corps of Engineers funding will finalize the needed funds for the project.
Environmentalists have raised concerns over dredging in the Delaware River, like the impact on sea life and potential pollution raised from the bottom of the river.
Boise Butler, president of ILA Local 1291, which represents the port’s longshore workers, and Rocky Bryan, Jr., Teamsters Local 929 president, also discussed the job impact of the dredging project.
“We have 3,000 members and out of those 3,000 member between the port and the food distribution center, 1,500 rely on jobs through the port,” Bryan said of the Teamsters members. He added that the dredging project could create jobs in construction, trucking, warehouse and longshore crews.
Leo Holt, president of Holt Logistics Corp., which runs the Packer Avenue terminal, said the new distribution warehouses will create jobs for Teamsters.
In the next two months, the 45-foot-crane that stands high over the terminal, will be removed. The crane first arrived in 1972, Holt added. “These are assets that put generations of people to work, fathers to sons, fathers to daughters,” Holt said.
Senator Casey told NewsWorks that since funding is secured, the next step is receiving approval to begin the dredging. He added that the job creation impact will be “unprecedented.”
“It means that Philadelphia and Pennsylvania can compete now when it comes to port business, the container markets,” Casey said. “We are not only competing with ports around the country, but ports around the world.”