Philadelphia Airport Expansion
The Philadelphia airport is proposing to expand out into the river, including constructing a new runway. The project includes dredging of 37 acres of riverbottom and filling in 25 acres of the actual mainstem Delaware River.
The FAA has finalized an Environmental Impact Statement for the project and determined that the option which includes building a new runway out into the Delaware is their preferred option. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network disagrees and is watching for permit requests and the like to further challenge this ill conceived project.
In short, the airport expansion being posed by the FAA is another River fill project, in this case the filling of 25 acres, that, according to NMFS’ comments, will contribute to changes in the hydrodynamic and sedimentation patterns of the Delaware Estuary. To the extent these changes further contribute to the changes that will be inflicted by the Deepening and Southport, it becomes another addition to the cumulative affects that could impact Atlantic sturgeon, recently identified as an Endangered Species under federal law.
September 2, 2010 the National Marine Fisheries Service wrote about the Philadelphia International Airport Project and expressed concerns about the impact of that project on alewife and blueback herring. Blueback herring is a prey species for juvenile bluefish. Because the airport proposal includes filling in 25 acres of the freshwater portion of the River that is used by blueback herring and alewife NMFS has concerns for the effects to the essential fish habitat of the juvenile blue fish which is a federally managed species. In addition, their letter notes that “river herring are commercially and recreationally valuable species managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.” And, NMFS notes, “Because landing statistics and the number of fish observed on annual spawning runs indicate a drastic decline in alewife and blueback herring populations throughout much of their range since the mid-1960’s, they have been designated as a species of concern by NMFS in a Federal Register Notice dated October 17, 2006.”
Further, in documents we have seen, NMFS has expressed particular concern about the presence of water celery (Valisneria) because it has high wildlife value and it is not clear how readily it can be established at mitigation sites. NMFS, in its 2010 letter regarding the airport project, also talks about the tremendous value of wild celery (Vallisneria americana) identifying it as valuable nursery, forage and refuge habitat for a variety of fish including striped bass, American shad, alewife, and blueback herring.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, on January 9, 2012, reported that major airlines operating at the airport, most notably US Airways and Southwest did not support the runway expansion. UPS, a major operator at the airport is also not, according to the article, a supporter of the airport expansion as it is being proposed.