The Schuylkill and Delaware rivers can bring $10 billion investment dollars into the region annually, according to a recently released University of Delaware study.
These findings were presented during an afternoon press conference held at the Bridesburg Outboard Club, along the club’s lush, green stretch of the Delaware River.
But, the river wasn’t always like that, as Gerald J. Kauffman, director of the University of Delaware’s Water Resources Agency, told the gathered crowd.
“The Delaware is back baby!” he said excitedly. “The Delaware Estuary has made one the most remarkable recoveries of an estuary in the world.”
In a presentation by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Kauffman discussed some of the findings of the study.
Recalling stories of how polluted the Delaware River had become during the city’s industrial heyday, Kauffman said he’s read reports of a man on the riverfront who left silver coins out on his dresser one evening and they tarnished overnight due to fumes from the river.
“Trout couldn’t migrate north of here,” he said, looking out at the river from the Bridesburg Outboard Club’s dock just north of the notable Cokies site.
“They can now,” he continued. “There are now rainbow trout in the river … That’s a real sign of the estuary coming back.”
In looking at the economic aspects of the estuary, the study says that in Pennsylvania alone — the estuary consists of areas in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey — an improved riverfront could mean more than 125,000 jobs.
From construction to recreation, tourism and fishing related careers, Pennsylvania could gain $2.8 billion in economic benefits, if the watershed grows and thrives.
But, how might that be done?
To support and grow the Delaware River watershed, the Partnership for the Delaware River Estuary presented six “priority projects” that the group believes could significantly benefit the river and help residents reconnect with the waterfront.
Jennifer Adkins, executive director of the partnership, noted that organizers will still need to obtain funding for these projects, but the first step is having a plan in place.
“These projects can be done in pieces,” she said. “Some could take a long time … We are working with what resources we have to combine that with corporate partners and the local community.”
The six proposed ideas would include reseeding the riverbed with oysters and replanting aquatic vegetation. But, of concern to Bridesburg, one proposed priority project — called Bridesburg Urban Waterfront Restoration — would see the area where the 60-acre Philadelphia Coke site meets the river involved in a multimillion-dollar renovation project.
Under this project, which has no start date or source of funding yet, the area at 3101 Orthodox St. could see up to 3 acres of tidal wetland and 12.5 acres of urban shoreline restored.
As presented, the restoration would link up with the Delaware River City Corporation’s ongoing greening program along the river north of Allegheny Avenue.
Jon Capacasa, director of the Water Protection Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Atlantic Region, said the time for projects like these is now, because the city is no longer an industrial powerhouse.
The end of that industrial age could usher in a new, natural phase of life for the Delaware River, he said.
“This was an industrial city. Well, that’s a fish factory,” he said, pointing to the waters of the river. “We need to protect it for the value it provides for our economy.”
“Let’s make these projects a reality,” continued Capacasa. “How many people who live just two or three blocks from here have never been to the waterfront?”
Overall, Pat McGrath, commodore of the Bridesburg Outboard Club and lifelong resident of the community, said he has noticed the ecosystem of the Delaware River improving in the last few years.
In fact, he said, he’s seen beavers playing in the waters right off the shore of the boat club, something he’s never seen in his life until recently.
“This area used to be all textile mills,” he recalled. “But, we can really see how the river cleans up. I’ve seen beavers playing and all kinds of birds…And, it [the river current] moves so fast now.”
Asked his thoughts on the possible restoration of the riverfront at the vacant Philadelphia Coke site, McGrath said he’d love to see it recovered, because his club too often has to call for the police to keep kids from swimming in the river off the ruins of a former industrial structure that stretches out into the river there.
“It would really be great if they could get involved and get rid of all that,” he said. “It’s a headache but it’s not just that, we are worried about the children’s lives.”
For more information on the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary or to see the findings of this recent economic study, visit www.delawareestuary.org.
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org