Delaware Chapter challenges Army Corps of Engineers dredging plans
The Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club challenges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ application for Water Quality Certification to conduct dredging in the Delaware River.
The application, announced in the DNREC Public Notices Digest on June 20, 2012, proposes to hydraulically dredge five miles of the Delaware River in the areas that experience a high rate of shoaling in the channel, including the New Castle Range, Cherry Island Range, and Marcus Hook Range, to discharge effluent into the Delaware River in New Castle County, as well as to dispose of 1,500,000 cubic yards of dredged materials annually for a period of five years into the Killcohook and the Pedricktown Complex Confined Disposal Facilities in New Jersey.
This application presents an incomplete and inadequate description of the project. Deficiencies in the application include:
- Depth of dredging: how deep will this permit, if issued, allow for dredging? The application is confusing about the actual depth of dredging.
- Purpose of dredging: has the application been submitted for new dredging (deepening), or maintenance dredging of the existing river channel? The application is unclear about whether the purpose of the application is to maintain previously-dredged channel, or to deepen the channel.
- “Advanced maintenance dredging”: what is the definition of this term? How does the Army Corps of Engineers have the authority to conduct this type of dredging? The application is unclear about its purpose or process in regards to this terminology.
- Dredge spoils disposal: where, specifically, will the dredged spoils be disposed of? Two sites are indicated, but the specific nature of dredge spoil disposal is unclear.
- Endangered species impacts, Shortnose Sturgeon: how will the proposed dredging impact the spawning, habitat and migration areas of the Shortnose Sturgeon in the Delaware River? Shortnose Sturgeon were listed on the Endangered Species List in 1967, and the Delaware River is critical habitat for this species.
- Endangered species impacts, Atlantic Sturgeon: how will the proposed dredging impact the spawning, habitat and migration areas of the Atlantic Sturgeon in the Delaware River? What steps would be taken to mitigate spawning, habitat, and migration impacts? Atlantic Sturgeon was listed as endangered in the Delaware River in February 2012 by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Delaware River is critical habitat for this species.
- Endangered species impacts, River Herring: how will the proposed dredging impact the spawning, habitat and migration areas of alewives and blueback herring? What steps would be taken to mitigate spawning, habitat, and migration impacts? River herrings, including blueback herring and alewife, are currently under Status Review for listing on the Endangered Species List by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Delaware River is critical habitat for this species.
- Saline impacts: how will the proposed dredging impact the hydrological dynamics of the Delaware River in regards to the salt-line, especially in dry seasons? Atlantic sturgeon require fresh water to spawn, and their young cannot survive in salt water. Deepening poses a direct threat to the sturgeon's critical habitat.
There are adequate grounds for DNREC to reject the application as incomplete. However, because DNREC seems to have accepted the application, the Sierra Club asks DNREC to deny the permit and Water Quality Certification.
If DNREC chooses to proceed with this application, the Sierra Club requests a public hearing be held that includes a review period of 90-days.