U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter made an investment in his future 27 years ago but could not have possibly seen how it might pay off at an opportune time today. Specter and his Pennsylvania colleague, the late U.S. Sen. John Heinz, pushed in 1983 to deepen the Delaware River for shipping to 45 feet. Dredging just started at noon today, after years of fights between Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Delaware and court challenges by environmental groups worried about the impact of the work on the river.
"Well I would hope so," Specter said this morning when asked if the start of the work today could be good political timing, since he is facing a Democratic primary election challenge from U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak. If Specter survives that, he likely faces a tough general election opponent in former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey, who nearly defeated Specter in a Republican primary in 2004. "I say that good government is always good politics," Specter said, adding that he didn't take on dredging for political benefits but to make Philadelphia competitive with other northeastern ports.
That said, Specter did push repeatedly the estimates that the work will create 125,000 jobs -- some at the ports, some to complete the dredging and some, if funded by the federal government, to haul 16 million cubic tons of dredged material to abandoned mines in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where it will be dumped.
Specter said he has been in touch with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is about to hold a press conference announcing plans to fight the dredging project, about gaining his support. He has also reached out to other legislators in New Jersey and Delaware. "They have their own points of view," Specter said.