PORT: Next Piece Of Dredging Project Falls Into Place

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BY TONY WEST/ This fall, Philadelphians will be able to see the Delaware River shipping channel being deepened to 45 feet. It probably won’t look different from the routine dredging that is done to maintain the channel’s current 40-foot depth. But the five extra feet of mud and gravel that it pulls out of the riverbed will change the city’s fate.

MAP SHOWS two completed reaches of Delaware River channel-deepening, Reach C and Lower Reach B, as well as next phase, Upper Reach A, which is scheduled to start soon.

This 11-mile stretch of dredging, from below the airport to the Walt Whitman Bridge (known as “the upper portion of Reach A” in officialese), will prepare a deepwater channel at the mouth of Southport, the site on former Navy Yard land where a port for superfreighters is being developed. When it is finished, the massive container vessels that carry ever-growing amounts of the world’s commerce will be able to sail all the way from Shanghai to South Philadelphia, where their crew can grab a bite at the Oregon Diner.

The US Army Corps of Engineers and the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority are partners in this project, with two-thirds of the funding coming from the federal government and one-third from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Richard Pearsall, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said it issued a solicitation for bids for the job on May 29. The scheduled bid opening date is Jun. 28. Work may begin as early as August. The timing is governed in part by environmental concerns, so the dredging will cause minimal disruption to natural cycles of estuarine life.

An estimated 1.2 million cubic yards of material from Reach A – mostly sand, silt and gravel – will be pumped to a federally owned Confined Disposal Facility at National Park, N.J.

Seventeen miles of channel have already been deepened, in a stretch from Wilmington, Del. to below Salem, N.J. and the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. That work was completed between March 2010 and January of this year, moving 4.5 million cubic yards of material – enough to cover a square mile more than four feet deep. The river is prone to shoaling as it approaches Delaware Bay, so more material needed to be moved on the downstream reaches. Total cost of the work to date is $37.7 million.

Once this contract is complete, the long section between Chester, Pa. and Wilmington must be done. Of more interest to Philadelphians, perhaps, will be the short reach between the Walt Whitman and Ben Franklin Bridges. When that phase of work begins, viewers at Penn’s Landing will find it easy to see a piece of the action. That won’t take place for a while, though. Another round of funding will be sought for it once the current job is finished.

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