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
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.)