Governor Chris Christie and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin today blasted the Army Corps of Engineers for dumping sediments from its Delaware River deepening project last month in New Jersey in disregard of a federal court order. A dike within the disposal facility later failed, causing a discharge into wetlands.
The Army Corps did not notify the DEP of the dike failure at its Killcohook Confined Disposal Facility or that it even intended to utilize this area until this week, when it informed the department that it was planning to advise a U.S. District Court judge of these developments.
Governor Christie and Commissioner Martin stressed that this is a very serious situation and demanded a full explanation from the Army Corps. The state is also considering its legal options.
“This situation is completely outrageous and typical of the Army Corps’ attitude of barreling ahead with this ill-conceived deepening project with no regard for the environment or the significant questions raised by the State of New Jersey,” Governor Christie said.
Because of a border quirk, about half of the Army Corps’ Killcohook Confined Disposal Facility technically lies in Delaware, though all of the land is actually located on the New Jersey side of the river. The Corps started using a disposal cell located within the New Jersey section of the site last month because it had significantly underestimated the amount of materials that would be dredged in the first phase of the deepening project, a stretch from the vicinity of Wilmington, Del. south to the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Sue Robinson, presiding in Wilmington, Del., had previously said that all work on the dredging project would occur in Delaware and that the sediments would be disposed only in that state.
This week the DEP learned that the Army Corps, despite this directive, had its contractor begin pumping sediments into the New Jersey disposal cell on Aug. 13. The dike failed on Aug. 30, causing a discharge that lasted for about two days before the Army Corps stopped it.
Commissioner Martin will ask the Army Corps to immediately begin an environmental assessment of the impacts of the discharge and provide a written explanation for failing to immediately notify the DEP of its plans to use the cell at Killcohook.
He also wants an explanation for the Army Corps’ failure to advise the DEP of a significant increase in the volume of sediments to be dredged. The DEP has learned that the Army Corps authorized a contract revision that more than doubles the volume of spoils to be dredged in a portion of the project from 900,000 cubic yards to 1.9 million cubic yards.
Despite vehement opposition from New Jersey leaders, the Army Corps’ Philadelphia District launched the controversial project to deepen the river’s shipping channel from its current depth of 40 feet to a depth of 45 in early March.
At that time, Governor Christie and Commissioner Martin joined U.S. Representative Rob Andrews and State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney in a bipartisan news conference to oppose the project, arguing the Army Corps has failed to update environmental studies evaluating the impact of the project on the river.
Commissioner Martin continues to argue that the Army Corps must perform updated environmental analyses because the data it is currently using is more than a decade old. More recent DEP testing indicates river sediments contain elevated levels of PCBs, metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other contaminants.
Most recently, the Army Corps provided the DEP with irrelevant contaminant data to assert that the Killcohook discharge did not cause any environmental harm. This data was collected prior to the discharge and from a different section of the river.
“This is not sound science,” Commissioner Martin said. “The Delaware River supports stunning ecological diversity and deserves our careful stewardship. Too much is at stake for the Army Corps to be so careless and so callous.”