Frelinghuysen Op-Ed: America Open for Business - New Jersey/New York Port Deepening Project

New Jersey League Of Municipalities Magazine

by: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) - 1/1/17

The ceremony in early September did not garner a great deal of attention.  The Star-Ledger and the Bergen Record covered the event.  Some local television stations sent reporters.  But, after more than 20 years of effort, the completion of the Harbor Deepening project at the Port of New York and New Jersey was truly momentous news!  The project capped a cooperative endeavor that will touch the lives of 23 million Americans and potentially boost the fortunes of every manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, transportation company, ‘Mom and Pop’ business and job-seeker up and down the east coast of the United States!

Since its authorization by Congress in the late 90s, the Army Corps of Engineers, has been working in concert with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to deepen 38 miles of channels, to a depth of 50 feet, beginning south of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and winding its way into waters between New Jersey and Staten Island. 

The goal is to allow the world’s largest container ships access to Port Newark/Port Elizabeth.  The project is essential to maintaining the competitive position of our four major terminals, particularly now that the Panama Canal has been expanded to allow huge ships to transit between New Jersey and Asia. 

Why is this important? 

More than 90 percent of global trade, valued at over $1.7 trillion, moves by ship and the Port of New York and New Jersey is the largest port on the East Coast of North America and the third-largest in our nation, behind only Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. 

The Port is the unquestioned economic engine of northern New Jersey, spurring more than $22 billion in economic activity each year. The Port is responsible for $9.4 billion in personal income and more than $5 billion in annual tax revenues to state and local governments.

Moreover, this project has already provided direct benefits over two-hundred sixty thousand people employed along the piers, docks and terminals and thousands more working in New Jersey companies that depend upon the cargoes hauled by these vessels.

As a longtime member of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Committee, and as its past chairman, the project has been, for more than twenty years, one of my highest priorities in Congress as it is essential to ensure that our Port remains the most attractive destination for international trading partners. 

But the efforts to complete this harbor deepening project have not always encountered smooth sailing.  Frankly, for many years, it was very hard to focus the public attention of state and federal leaders on this maritime commercial and national security priority in our backyard! 

In bipartisan fashion, Senator Bob Menendez joined my efforts to protect funding and a remarkable coalition of the Port Authority, the Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, shippers, terminal operators, dredgers, unions and environmental organizations banded together to help bring this project to completion.

While every member of this outstanding alliance navigated several significant challenges over the past twenty years, including serious economic recessions, the Army Corps deserves particular commendation.  The Corps was able to complete this $2 billion project while simultaneously weathering Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Superstorm Sandy in our region, flooding on the Mississippi and other calamities, while their commanders and soldiers repeatedly deployed to the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and while they played a key role in New York City’s recovery from the attacks of 9-11.

As a result of these herculean efforts, the Harbor Deepening Project is putting our region in a good position to benefit from growing global trade.  Here at home, these projects help retain current jobs and add new ones, and affect the cost of consumer goods up and down the East Coast. It is a true ‘win-win-win’ for our state.

As I travel my Congressional District, talking with people on the street or in their small businesses, I meet people who have been job-hunting for years. While the “official” unemployment rate may be dropping, the labor participation rate in our country is as low as it has been since the ‘70s.  As a result, “real” unemployment is much higher than advertised. 

The question should then occur to every citizen of our great State: where would our jobless rate in New Jersey be without a vital, active and growing Port Newark/Port Elizabeth?