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Archive for the ‘Wilmington’ Category

As CRI continues efforts to expand and bring the efforts for economic and personal freedom to all Delawareans we recognize the thoughts from our former Director of the Center for Education Excellence, Jim Hosley.

In question are two articles which appeared in the News Journal this week: One on the news about the ‘priority schools’ announcement from the state and one on Moyer Academy’s closing at the end of the 2014-2015 school year. Here are Jim’s observations and thoughts:

  • Agree the six Wilmington schools are not performing.  Where has the Markell Administration been? These schools have had the same level of under-performance since the start of his administration. People on the street in neighborhoods have been saying the system isn’t working and they’ve lost six years with Markell’s deaf ear.
  • What has Markell been doing: launched a major statewide program that has not improved results statewide; created a foreign language program with specific attention to Chinese to make DE a world education leader (in fact he allocated over $2 million dollars to that program – great help for these 6 schools!); secured $119 million for Race to the Top (RTTT) and $49 million for early education but nothing for problem schools; dropped funding for start up funds for more charter schools; and teachers complain there is no consistency and more stress in classroom precipitated by programs imposed from above the school level.
  • Markell is in fact pointing the finger at teachers. No doubt there are problem teachers as in any business and schools need to be able to hire and fire in order to find and retain the right teachers – a system-wide problem. However when there is system-wide failure there is a systemic problem. A problem in a state with a large DOE that has grown under his administration.
  • The Administration continues to look to spending when in fact the question isn’t how much but where education monies are spent. It is time to look at all spending outside the classroom, focus on reducing those that do not prepare students, and re-direct savings to appropriate spending including targeted programs to overcome social issues that contribute to an environment that does not encourage learning and participation.
  • Why should the state establish salary objectives for education leaders? Because they are buying support and they like spending. I have no trouble with paying more but in the context of our current spending then the solution is to understand effectiveness and redirect reductions to contributors. DOE has to be a focus and review because it has been in charge, is bloated and is ineffective. Question: Why do we need a DOE department that employs about 150 more people by population than the average state?
  • It was nice to see the sense of urgency . . . but using as justification that 2000 more students will more likely go to jail than get a job is simply a nice touch given everyone already knows the issue. Urgency should have been from day one of the Markell administration. A tenure that has contributed to the problem with cumulative results of than more than 12,000 students  have already failed to street and drugs — where has the Administration’s urgency been.

What we need.

  • All schools serve the public good so any solution must be local and include using public, private, faith-based, blended school and homeschool opportunities.
  • Parents equipped with ESA’s do not have to wait for another elaborate scheme that will probably results in same failed results of other governments plans; and don’t have to wait for a Vision 2025! They can send their children to schools that deliver today (and they have capacity to accommodate more and given monies available will quickly grow more public and private because the monopoly is not in charge) the math skills, reading skills, functional literacy, and solid work habits to allow their children to grow up and find a good job. We do see this in all charter schools in Wilmington yet the DOE closed one and is closing another that serve the most underserved. How about closing underperforming traditional public schools.
  • Parents able to decide the effectiveness of schools and teachers by directing the funds set aside in savings accounts will make all schools more accountable. In many ways private schools are more responsive, more accountable and more open to direct participation. Choice provides a chance to  improve public schools that will have to focus effectiveness and budgets on what parents value, that will overcome hierarchical organizations that impose rules and regulations, and that increase more in-school and at-home participation that has been limited by the need to comply with elaborate state, federal and union rules and behaviors.

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A bipartisan group of state representatives has sponsored House Resolution #32 supporting the Army Corps of Engineers Channel Deepening Project. It’s primary sponsor is Rep. J. Johnson. Representatives Brady, Keeley, D. Short and D.P. Williams are additional sponsors. It is co-sponsored by Representatives BriggsKing, Carey, Hocker, Lee and Longhurst.

WHEREAS, the Port of Wilmington is a valuable economic engine for the State of Delaware’s interstate and international commerce, annually serving more than 400 vessels with an import/export tonnage exceeding 4 million tons; and

WHEREAS, the Delaware River Main Channel Deepening Project (the “Project”) is a proposed United States Army Corps of Engineers project to increase the depth of (by dredging) the Delaware River’s main shipping channel from 40 to 45 feet; and

WHEREAS, in the shipping industry, the trend is to build larger ships to accommodate more cargo, and larger ships require more “draft” or deeper water to safely navigate; and

WHEREAS, deepening the Delaware River’s main channel would allow larger vessels to safely navigate and dock at ports along the River, including the Port of Wilmington; and

WHEREAS, the Port of Wilmington is geographically “blessed” by virtue of its location between larger markets and proximity to rail and highway transportation facilities; and

WHEREAS, a deeper channel would encourage existing shippers to continue using the Port of Wilmington and also permit the Port of Wilmington to compete for expanded commercial shipments, resulting in additional jobs in and around the Port; and

WHEREAS, it has been estimated that the Project could inject over $500 million annually into the local and regional economy; and

WHEREAS, it has been estimated that the Project would create and support a total of 6,000 direct and indirect jobs in the State, with 44% of those employed residing in New Castle County and 36% residing in the City of Wilmington; and

WHEREAS, it has been estimated that the Project would lead to more than $212 million in total revenues for Delaware businesses and more than $22 million in annual State and local taxes; and

WHEREAS, the United States Army Corps of Engineers has designed the Project to be environmentally sensitive by using advanced technology to monitor and protect Delaware’s wildlife and restricting dredging activities at times when particular wildlife species mate and spawn; and

WHEREAS, the State of Delaware would also reap the benefits of beach replenishment and creation of new wetlands from the Project; and

WHEREAS, the House of Representatives recognizes economic benefits of the Project and considers the proposed dredging of the Delaware River’s main shipping channel to be essential to maintaining and expanding the Port of Wilmington’s commercial business.

NOW, THEREFORE:

BE IT RESOLVED that the House of Representatives of the 145th General Assembly of the State of Delaware hereby expresses its support for the Delaware River Main Channel Deepening Project and encourages the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to support this important economic development project.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that upon passage a suitably prepared and duly authenticated copy of this resolution be forwarded to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

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Proponents of the Army Corps of Engineer’s channel deepening project claim opposition by local politicians is self-serving, a betrayal of their constituents’ best interests, anti-business and anti-labor.

By Lee Williams

(Note: this story can also be found in CRI’s Special Report section.)

The Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging the Delaware River since the 1800s, when the river was 18-feet deep. The current 40-foot depth has been maintained regularly since World War II.

If Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell had his way, they’d be dredging the river deeper tomorrow, but a proposal by the Corps of Engineers to deepen parts of the shipping channel from 40 to 45 feet is in jeopardy.

After Delaware and New Jersey officials took legal action to halt the dredging project, five environmental groups similarly filed suit – lawsuits Rendell believes are frivolous.

“What makes these suits a hoax is that we do dredging every year,” Rendell told the Caesar Rodney Institute. “We do maintenance dredging. When we’re allowed a 40-foot depth, silt accumulates and you have to dredge.”

If parts of the 103-mile shipping channel are dredged to 45 feet, Rendell and many others believe the increase in traffic will create more jobs throughout the region, in addition to safeguarding the jobs already here.

“I am a strong advocate of dredging. It’s essential for us in the Port of Philadelphia, southern New Jersey and the Port of Wilmington to remain competitive,” Rendell said. “We need to dredge to at least 45 feet. If we do so, we could add 10,000 to 40,000 good-paying longshoreman jobs. To get 10,000 to 40,000 jobs, especially in this economy, is like manna from heaven.”

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, Attorney General Beau Biden and New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine don’t see the Corps’ plan as heaven sent. None were willing to be interviewed for this story.

Privately, Corzine has admitted his opposition to the dredging project would end after he won re-election, a campaign he ultimately lost.

According to a former government official, during a meeting in late September, Corzine said, “I don’t give a shit about this dredging project. We just have to get through November 3rd.”

Corzine’s critics have accused him of supporting dredging that benefits the northern ports in his state, while ignoring the interests of southern New Jersey ports.

Rendell has spoken to Markell and Corzine about the need to deepen the channel by five feet, and he has a plan to overcome their opposition.

“I told them we’re going to create an oversight committee to make sure the dredging goes without any environmental problems,” Rendell said, adding that the viability of ports up and down the river is at risk if the project is stopped.

Who stopped the project?

The suits by the environmental groups didn’t halt the dredging. The Corps $300 million plan was already on hold. It was stopped dead because of a report issued in 2003 by an anonymous hearing officer working for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), who decided the Corps didn’t submit sufficient documentation, and that the plan changed during the intervening years, while DNREC sat on the paperwork.

“Studies, opinions and documentation required to corroborate requests to modify protective environmental windows are not part of the record,” the hearing officer wrote in his six-year-old report.

DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara cited this hearing officer’s report in his July 23 denial letter, sent to Lt. Col. Thomas Tickner, the Corps’ Philadelphia District Commander.

“Given the Hearing Officer’s recommendations, the significant changes to the scale of the project, the outdated nature of the record, and the potential procedural flaws in making such an important decision based upon the existing record, I have no alternative than to deny the permits,” O’Mara said in the letter.

O’Mara too was not willing to be interviewed for this story.

His denial letter set off a chain reaction among politically ambitious state officials on both sides of the river.

On Oct. 30, Biden filed suit in federal court to stop the project, arguing the project infringed upon his state’s sovereign rights.

“The decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to begin deepening Delaware waters is a direct challenge to the territorial authority of the State of Delaware and violates federal and state law,” Biden is quoted as saying in a press release. “We will aggressively enforce our right to regulate and control any activity conducted on the Delaware River within Delaware’s boundaries. Instead of working with Delaware by addressing longstanding critical concerns about the impact of the proposed dredging project, the Corps decided to proceed to deepen Delaware waters without Delaware’s approval.”

Less than two weeks later, at Corzine’s direction, New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram – who was appointed in 2007 by Corzine – joined Biden’s suit, a move Biden trumpeted in yet another press release.

“New Jersey’s decision demonstrates its shared commitment with Delaware to protect the territorial integrity of our states and our natural resources,” Biden is quoted as saying in a Nov. 10 press release. “I applaud New Jersey’s swift action in this case…”

A week later, the environmental groups piled on.

Motives questioned

The actions of the two attorneys general produced consternation and a lot of head scratching at the Corps, who like Rendell pointed out there’s almost always maintenance dredging going on somewhere on the river, in order to maintain a navigable depth.

“There’s a lot about this project that’s unique for us,” said Ed Voigt, spokesman for the Corps’ Philadelphia District.

The Corps, he said, first applied for DNREC permits in 2001, so of course the plan morphed somewhat while the department took no action.

As to the five lawsuits, Voigt pointed to the Corp’s reams of environmental impact statements.

“There have been $8 million worth of environmental studies to date,” he said. “There have been samples looking at salinity, ground water impact, contaminant levels, impact on shellfish and endangered species.”

What did the studies determine?

“There is no significant impact,” he said. “It’s environmentally safe. The channel’s clean. It’s a very thorough battery of tests.”

Voigt said one on the “traps” people fall into when considering dredging is the mistaken belief that contaminants in the silt will be disturbed by the process and float downstream. This risk, he said, is negated by the Corps’ ongoing maintenance dredging.

“Because of the maintenance of the channel for the past 70 years, there’s a vacuuming effect, a skimmering effect,” he explained. “As contaminants are introduced into the channel, they come back out.”

The Corps has already made plans to dispose of the 16 million cubic yards of sand, clay and silt – known as spoils – that will be removed from the river bottom once the plan is approved.

They say 11.9 million cubic yards of spoils will be placed on federal land in New Jersey and Delaware. In the past, the Corps has allowed these spoils to be used for public works projects. Several years ago, the West Deptford Township used 150,000 cubic yards in its riverfront development project.

The remaining 4.1 million cubic yards, mostly sand from the Delaware Bay, is slated to be used for shore protection.

It’s about jobs

The Holt Logistics Corp. was founded in 1926 by Leo Holt, who started with a single truck – new technology for its time.

Holt raised his family in Philadelphia, making deliveries around the region with a small fleet of two trucks.

He lost everything during the Great Depression, by using the trucks as collateral in a loan he guaranteed for a friend. He managed to rebuild, and passed a successful trucking business to his two sons, Leo and Tom.

In 1967, the two brothers managed to buy a piece of an old shipyard, expanding the family business into the maritime industry.

Today, the founder’s grandson Leo A. Holt oversees a diversified business, with more than 1,500 people depending on him for their livelihood.

Holt believes the politicians who oppose dredging are not taking into account the best interests of their constituents. Unless the plan is implemented, Holt said the entire Delaware River estuary will be bypassed by vessels that require a deeper draft.

“There is so much these people have not answered in terms of their opposition,” he said. “If they do not take their hand off the throat of this, they run the risk of marginalizing their own populations. They are not only putting their hands on the throat of businesses, but their own people.”

If the plan is approved, the entire region will benefit.

“What we want to see is not just a port facility developed. We want to see distribution parks proximate to the port facilities, built in Delaware, Philadelphia and New Jersey,” he said. “That’s the front and the back of how the world evolves.”

Holt has already made commitments to expand his port facilities – commitments that are at risk if the river is not dredged.

“Our outlook is very simple. We just want to see more jobs, create more capital, put it back in our business, and reinvest in what we do,” Holt said.

Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Keller, D-Philadelphia, like Holt, questions the motivations of politicians who oppose the dredging plan.

Keller, a former longshoreman, said the issue is simple – it’s about creating more jobs.

“Some politicians have used this issue. They don’t know what they’re talking about. They may be able to win a local election by saying dredging is bad, but they’ll hurt the people who depend upon the river for a living,” Keller said. “It’s our job to create jobs. They say they’re for that, but their actions are different.”

Keller said more than 75,000 people currently depend on the port for their livelihood.

“If the politicians along the Delaware River don’t get their act together and get behind dredging, we’ll lose all those jobs and it will be our fault,” he said. “In Philadelphia, we can’t afford to lose those jobs. I don’t think the people of Wilmington can either.”

Gov. Minner’s role

Capt. Mike Linton, former president of the Delaware Bay Pilots Association, spent 48 years on the river.

He ferried former Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner up and down the river, to familiarize the governor with the Corps’ proposal.

“She was on the river at least three times. She knew quite a bit about it. She was in favor of the plan,” Linton said.

Linton believes Minner should have signed-off on the Corps’ proposal, and told her DNREC secretary to issue the necessary permits, instead of allowing the plan to gather dust in DNREC’s in-box.

“I’m very baffled why she didn’t do it,” he said.

Minner did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

“If we don’t’ dredge, the traffic we have in Philadelphia, Camden and Wilmington will eventually go away,” Linton said.

The problem, he explained, is an aging fleet. The ships hauling the bulk of the fruit to local ports are in their “teens.” They’re designed to last approximately 20 years.

“The next generation of ships is being built to accommodate the Panama Canal,” he said. “They’re bigger. If we don’t get more water, what we have will wither on the vine and eventually go away.”

Linton and others say larger container ships will simply choose other ports with deeper access, such as Baltimore, Norfolk and Miami, which have a 50-foot depth, or New York, Charleston and northern New Jersey, which have dredged to 45-feet.

He and other dredging proponents point out that 1,000 trucks will be added to the region’s highways per day, if the channel is not deepened, which will increase pollution, traffic congestion and highway repair costs.

Green Concerns

Green Delaware is not one of the five environmental groups suing to stop the Corps’ dredging project.

Green Delaware Executive Director Alan Muller, who opposes additional dredging, says the controversy is cyclical.

“For decades, there’s been an ongoing squabble between environmentalists and other interests. It’s fair to say, so far, the anti-dredging interests have prevailed. That’s the big picture,” Muller said. “Over the years, there’s been a big push to say [dredging] is needed and wanted. Now, we’re going through another cycle. There’s nothing unusual about that.”

From an environmentalist’s perspective, Muller said, part of the issue is trust.

“The Corps, at least as far as the Philadelphia District is concerned, no one trusts them,” he said. “Everything they say seems to be automatically regarded as a lie.”

Muller said the “vacuuming effect” of constant dredging is itself problematic, and responsible for two types of pollutants.

“The technical lingo is ‘suspended in the water column,’ which means when you go along the bottom with the cutter, it loosens everything up. Some gets sucked up into the spoils area, the other heads down river,” he said. “The conflict is one: what is suspended in the water, and two: where do you put the spoils?”

Muller dismissed the idea proposed by some dredging proponents of dumping the spoils into old coal mines.

“[The spoils] are the consistency of a can of black bean soup. No one wants to put that into rail cars and haul it to Scranton. What would the effect on the groundwater be?” he asked. “And it’s expensive.”

If the spoils were deposited above ground, he said, a good rain would allow contaminants to leech out and re-enter the groundwater.

“A lot of the environmentalists’ objections to this are philosophical,” he said. “They feel the river has been used as a channel for commerce ever since white people showed up. Now it’s time to pay a little attention to the river itself.”

Rep. Keller disagrees, and points to the Corps’ environmental impact studies.

“There are 12,000 pages of scientific data saying it’s fine. As a matter of fact, it’s better than fine,” he said. “This is about one thing – job creation.”

Contact investigative reporter Lee Williams at (302) 242-9272 or lee@caesarrodney.org

The Caesar Rodney Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan research and educational organization and is committed to being a catalyst for improved performance, accountability, and efficiency in Delaware government.

© Copyright Dec. 7, 2009 by the Caesar Rodney Institute.

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After a lengthy delay, Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker announced yesterday that the city would be accepting some 3.5 million dollars in federal stimulus funds, with the intent to hire an additional 16 police officers. The funds are supposed to cover the 16 positions for 3 years, with the city required to keep the officers on for at least a fourth year. Due to an unlisted set of expenditure requirements (likely equipment, etc.), the positions will still cost the City 1.7 million over the next 4 years, with the majority (1.4 million) coming in the second half of this period. For the fifth year and beyond, the cost of retaining all of the 16 officers is estimated to be 1.5 million dollars annually.

The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) federal program was initially designed to provide a sort of bridge-grant to communities forced to lay off police officers during the economic downturn. Wilmington is seeking to modify the terms of the plan to permit it to hire additional officers, rather than to maintain its current staff (a previous local agreement saved potential layoffs).

This particular program is a tough topic to discuss. There are few areas of government spending as generally justified as those dedicated to the safety and security of citizens. My trouble with this particular plan concerns the source of funding: a complicated mish-mash of federal, state, and local funding to varying degrees, with the burden shifting ultimately onto local and state funding. The desired shift from the program’s initial focus on saving existing staff from layoffs seems to only underscore the potential ill-effects of this policy. Furthermore, given this past year’s budget troubles, taking on future spending increases right now without matching cuts or revenue sources scheduled to balance them out is effectively gambling with the sustainability of the project (ceteribus paribus — the city could of course increase taxes, but it really is time we stop thinking of that as a magic fix).

It seems fairly certain that crime will still be as much of a problem for Wilmington 5 years from now. As such, the precipitous elimination of 16 police officers would have catastrophic consequences. Given that presumption, and given the amount of time the city put into merely deciding whether or not to take the funds, it would be especially heartening if there was any assurance that the city had a plan in mind apart from the general economic recovery to be able to cover these 16 officers in the future. Absent such assurances, I am left hoping rather blindly that the city has any plan at all. I’m a little skeptical.

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As our government increases the tax burden we’ll get more of what this video shows. A successful downtown should be vibrant, right?

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