your-news image
PHILADELPHIA -- "Dredging is underway as we speak," said Robert Blackburn, the senior deputy executive director of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, based in Philadelphia.

On June 22, he spoke of work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the Delaware River channel to 45 feet. The port authority had a leading role in deepening the channel. This concept eventually overcame resistance from environmentalists and some political sectors in New Jersey and Delaware, which also face the river.

Mr. Blackburn previously was quoted in The Produce News describing the deepening as "the biggest public works project in the Philadelphia region in decades. This is absolutely pivotal to the port of Philadelphia for all of our businesses and, increasingly, in fruit."

With a deeper river channel, it will be possible for super-sized container ships to navigate Delaware River ports. Working with the office of Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, the PRPA is planning a new container facility, "Southport," which is on prime waterfront property in what was previously the Philadelphia Naval Yard.

A party keenly interested in the dredging and Southport is Leo Holt, president of Holt Logistics Corp, which has comfortable offices Gloucester City, NJ, facing Philadelphia from across the Delaware.

Like Mr. Blackburn, Mr. Holt strongly supports the dredging, and also notes that work is "underpinned in large part by Governor Rendell's leadership. Governor Rendell was willing to take on the machine and fight for dredging."

As to conservation critics, Mr. Holt noted that the Delaware River has been dredged for 100 years and that history has shown dredging does no damage the environment. With the final decision to dredge, "bad science has been defrocked for what it is."

Mr. Holt and Mr. Blackburn both acknowledged -- and refuted -- the notion that the channel deepening will not benefit produce trade on the Delaware. The reasoning behind this is that the relatively small break bulk ships typically bearing fruit up the Delaware River do not have deep drafts. But Mr. Blackburn said with larger container ships headed into ports of the Delaware, there will be new shipping options opened to suppliers worldwide who want to access northeastern U.S. markets.

Similarly, Mr. Holt said June 17, "People have often said that refrigerated cargo does not do anything for smaller ships with less draft. That is a fallacy. Any infrastructure improvement is good for everyone. A rising tide lifts all boats. The more cargo that goes through this river system, the more people will have more opportunities to ship and receive and have more robust operations on the river. It is a keystone for success and sustainability of this maritime region."

Holt Logistics Corp is a bidder to develop the Southport project. Those proposals were submitted to the PRPA in mid-July.

Mr. Holt said Southport is vitally important because waterfront property is so important for trade. "The key commodity is available land. Industrial waterfront needs water" and on shore, real estate "including space for on- or near-dock food distribution and processing."

The Delaware River channel deepening project was initially funded by a federal act in 1989. Political affairs wove a complex web until Governor Rendell broke a stalemate in May 2008. A project partnership agreement was signed on June 23, 2008.

(For more on the ports of the Delaware River, see the July 26, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)