Hazleton, Pa., Mayor To New Jersey Governor:
"We'll Take All The Delaware River's Muck"

by Tony West

If New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine were to give Hazleton, Pa. Mayor Louis Barletta a call, he'd find out the mayor has come to his rescue. Hazleton wants all the Delaware River mud it can get and more.

That one fact eliminates "the top surface concern" New Jersey officials have used to keep the Port of Philadelphia and Camden from sharing in the economic boom that would be created if the river channel were dredged another five feet to a depth of 45 feet. They no longer have to worry about taking on the “Muck”.

The New Jersey refusal points all fingers to the ports of Northern New Jersey and New York City, whose political power is behind the state's refusal to sign on to permit the beginning of dredging. Those ports are now in the process of deepening their channels to 50 feet. They don't want this Port to be a competitor as well it could be.

That's why Governor Ed Rendell has taken off the gloves and is demanding the Delaware River Port Authority, held hostage by its New Jersey commissioners, approve the dredging or find itself imploded by his actions.

Mayor Louis Barletta looks at the deepening project as "God-sent" because it is the only way he and his city can get rid of a gigantic, cancer-producing abandoned surface coal mine that occupies 300 acres squarely in the heart of Hazleton.

The picturesque town was long ago caught up in the heyday of coal mining. It sat atop a lode of anthracite so abundant, it came to the surface. In its haste to allow the mine companies to take advantage of the coal and to hire more miners, permission was given to buy up hundreds of homes on huge tracts of land within the city limits.

When it came time to close shop, those mining companies dissolved, leaving the residents of Hazleton with a deep hole stretched over 300 acres. It's literally as massive as 300 contiguous football fields. In ensuing years, it was used for improper and illegal waste disposal, resulting in the pouring of acid mine drainage into the soil, polluting underground springs.

So anxious is the city of Hazleton to get the dredged Delaware River material, it has entered into an agreement with the US Army Corps of Engineers which has commissioned the creation of an on-site rail siding and loading facility at Fort Mifflin to remove dredging muck as quickly as it is recovered so it can be sent on to them.

As of now there are approximately foyr million tons of dredge material ripe for the taking. That material came from early deepening projects and they fill three "cells", each the size of 100 acres.

The rail siding is almost complete and the first trains soon will be barreling up to Hazleton to begin what that city hopes to see as "an unending stream of Delaware River mud to make it whole again," says Nate Sanders, CEO of Philtech Construction Management, which is building the site.

"We'll be taking dredge out faster than they can pour in it in," says Barry Bowen, site manager for Bill Rinaldi, owner of Mark Development, which wants to turn the coal mine site into a retail center complete with hotel and an outdoor amphitheater.

But first, the mine crater needs to be filled and it will take up to 15 million cubic yards of material to do it.

Bowen indicates the rail site, together with a huge scale, will begin to weigh the mud as it gets pumped into 30-yard capacity trucks and then duped into train cars.

Bomen said the key to the operation is to provide cost-effective transportation from the site to its destination. The rail line does that, feeding into the Norfolk Southern lines which will take the dredged material directly to Hazleton.

Not only does Hazleton want the dredged material from the bottom of the Delaware, New Jersey needs it to fill in areas around the Paulsboro Terminal it is creating. The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority needs several million tons to fill in areas around its newly acquired Southport just east of the old Naval Base.