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Dredging Crucial to Maintain $20 Billion Shipping Industry

Last week local business, downtown revitalization program and Chambers of Commerce leaders had the opportunity to get a first-hand account of the importance of the dredging project now underway in Port of Elizabeth and Newark, the largest containerized, deep-water shipping terminal on the East Coast and the nation’s largest petroleum port.

The Fifth Annual Waterfront Cruise was sponsored by the Union County Economic Development Corporation (UCEDC). A short explanation on the dredging was provided for guests, who also included a number of county and local elected officials.

The UCEDC estimates that if the dredging project did not go forward, the region faced the loss of a $20 billion shipping industry which generates $5.2 billion in wages and salaries and nearly $330 million in state and local taxes, and employs some 180,000 workers.

In an effort to ensure the success of the project, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hired dredging expert Thomas H. Wakeman, 3rd, out of California to manage the authority’s dredging operation. The past few years both Republicans and Democrats alike on the Freeholder board have noted the crucial importance of the dredging operation to deepen the waters for large shipping vessels. Giant container ships need 40-foot channels for passage. Over time these channels fill with river silt and mud and must be dredged clear. According to the UCEDC, for 80 years dredged material was disposed of off the Sandy Hook coastline. Environmental groups have claimed this material contains dangerous levels of dioxin. The UCEDC says these levels are "extremely low" and have not proven harmful.

In 1995 alone, a total 13.2 million tons of cargo were moved through the Elizabeth port with a value of $45.5 million. According to the UCEDC, this amount represented 68 percent of the total tonnage volume moved through the entire New York and New Jersey port facilities.

Money has been appropriated by Congress to look at the deepening of the Kill Van Kull and for reassessment of the Arthur Kill deepening.

Vice President Al Gore has announced that there will be a comprehensive study of the deepening of the port waters. The federal government will pay half the cost of the $18 million study with New York, New Jersey and the Port Authority each pitching in $3 million.

The study, which will look at the deepening of the entire harbor area to 50 feet for channels leading into the harbor, will be completed by December of 1999. The Vice President has said the deepening of the entire harbor benefits the federal government.

At the conclusion of the study, Vice President Gore has said, the issue would go back to Congress for approval of funds to pay for the deepening of the entire harbor, and to maintain it.

The Port Authority is looking into conducting a business investment study to go along with the channel deepening study. This study will look into the types of investments which will be needed in infrastructure such as expansion of express rail systems, improvements to highways and connections to gates at the Port Elizabeth terminal.

The permits issued by the United States Army Corps of Engineers allows for the dredging at New Jersey’s marine terminals along the Arthur Kill into Newark Bay. The permit authorizes dredging of 159,000 cubic yards of material not suitable for ocean dumping to reestablish water depths from 35 to 40 feet deep. An additional 36,000 cubic yards of material suitable for ocean dumping has been dredged at the Maher Fleet Street Terminal at Port Elizabeth, thus completing the port’s first 45-foot berth.

A thriving port area is of high importance to the economy of Union County. Elizabeth, the Union County seat, holds 60 percent of the Port of New York waters, as well as 40 percent of Newark International Airport.


Newark is one of the fastest growing airports in the nation. The air cargo facility witnessed a 37 percent increase in tonnage of international cargo from 1993 to 1994, and an 18 percent jump in tonnage of domestic cargo.

So, while Newark Airport is thriving, the county needs to ensure the same type of economic growth for the port. With the reactivation of freight rail lines in the county, the county’s economy could surge in the years ahead.

Copyright 1997
TheWestfield Leader.
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