Philadelphia's River Region
A concentration of articles around the rivers and wetland in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Originally, politics had to do with the Proprietors, then the immigrants, then the King of England, then the establishment of the nation. Philadelphia first perfected the big-city political machine, which centers on bulk payments from utilities to the boss politician rather than small graft payments to individual office holders. More efficient that way.
Nature preservation and nature destruction are different parts of an eternal process.
Right Angle Club: 2013
Reflections about the 91st year of the Club's existence. Delivered for the annual President's dinner at The Philadelphia Club, January 17, 2014. George Ross Fisher, scribe.
It seems unlikely a peanut farmer from Georgia would have much interest in Philadelphia, let alone the activities of its local Army Corps of Engineers. But it seems there is some sort of story, there. An acquaintance chairing a local meeting of Americans for Democratic Action at the time remembers an episode dating from the 1976 presidential nominating campaign. Morris Udall was the main opponent of Jimmy Carter for the Democrat nomination. You might suppose an out of town politician would have instincts tell him to be nice to the local mayor of his own party, but Jimmy Carter went out of his way to attack Frank Rizzo. Udall took the path of conventional wisdom and refrained from joining Carter in the attack. Since Pennsylvania votes were considered pivotal in that particular race, it was watched with considerable interest. But to the surprise of the insiders, Carter won the Pennsylvania votes, suggesting that hidden animosity to Rizzo was extensive. Furthermore, from that event, it would be possible to suppose either of two conclusions. Either Carter would be grateful to Pennsylvania for putting his nomination over the top, or else he had some sort of grievance against Rizzo.
Subsequent events suggest he had a grievance, but it would be very hard to imagine where the two would even have met each other in the past. More likely, he made some slighting remark to an aide, who took it on himself to curry favor when in fact Carter had forgotten all about it.
|U.S. Army Corps of Engineers|
In any event, the local division of the Army Corps of Engineers went into some sort of decline, dating from about that time, which might well have been over-reacting to the so-called Love Canal episode. The chief of the division was to have no higher rank than Lt. Colonel. The activities of the division had been centered on building dams and flood control projects but began to be mostly environmental protection, particularly repair of hurricane-damaged ocean beaches. The headquarters was moved from the Custom House to the Wanamaker Building because the personnel and budget had declined. There was the talk of merging the district with another district. The Delaware Division is the smallest district in the country, almost difficult to find on a map whereas some other districts enclose eight states. When you get more states you get more Senators, so you get more budget, and so on. It was sad that the Navy and Marines were founded here, the Revolution and the War of 1812 caused many fortifications to be centered here, the capital of the country. From that point to the present, there has been a long decline. It was particularly painful that West Point is primarily an engineering college, with a tradition that the top five percent of every class is offered a place in the Corps of Engineers. In Army politics, it is clear that a heavy proportion of the generals were West Point graduates, just as it is almost exclusively true that all admirals have Annapolis in their background. Jimmy Carter went to Annapolis, but so what?
Rather than follow a line of thought which leaves many uncomfortable, perhaps it is more relevant to notice that all of our rivers seem to be drying up. Colorado and the Rio Grande are mere trickles, the Mississippi now has wide banks of mud. Delaware has long been recognized as having a wide mouth and a short length, reflecting its origin as a small river emptying (at Trenton) into a wide bay which is really the back bay of the huge barrier peninsula of Southern New Jersey. What might have been its extensive watershed runs instead into the Susquehanna, about a hundred miles north of Philadelphia, probably because of volcanic shifts? But what was once a thriving port has dwindled as a result of labor troubles and some unfortunate legislation. That's where the number of Senators in your district makes a difference.
Wilmington, Delaware has the largest port for bananas in the nation; Delaware points southward, toward all of Latin America. The Chinese are financing, and probably engineering, a widening of the Panama Canal to accommodate giant container ships that now can't get through. The first port on the Atlantic seaboard to deepen its harbor accordingly, will probably get first-mover advantage and hold it because it is expensive to play catch up. Philadelphia is about half-finished in the deepening of the channel to forty-five feet. But New York's deepening of the Hudson is almost complete. New Jersey politics involves both channels on its north and south borders, but New Jersey has long since thrown in its lot with New York. Now that it probably won't matter, the Pennsylvania dredging will probably be permitted to finish. If that happens, the only hope for Philadelphia in the race to be a big container port will depend on a recession in China slowing down their import traffic until we catch up. After all, Philadelphia is blessed with an almost world-unique combination of rail, highway, airport, and ocean shipping interchanges at a single point, on relatively undeveloped land close to a major city. Without wishing any evil on China, we do have to wish they would encounter some reason to slow down for us. Slow down, that is until our natural advantages can overcome the foibles of our politicians.
Originally published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013; most-recently modified: Friday, June 07, 2019