DREDGING AND AIR QUALITY

DREDGING AND AIR QUALITY

wo related issues are raising public ire in New Jersey these days. Unfortunately, few want to see the connection between them.

In one, the state, under federal pressure to clean up its air, has just introduced a rigorous new auto-inspection system. It has been a nightmare to motorists and state officials alike. In the opening days, drivers faced waits of up to five hours. The delays have eased somewhat, but they're still lengthy - and anger is still running high.In the other issue, an advocacy group and several federal lawmakers are whipping the public into a frenzy of fear over the disposal of dredged material at a federal ocean site six miles off the coast.

The group and the politicians say the material, some of which has already gone to the site, is toxic and a deadly threat to Jersey beaches. They don't bother to add, however, that the material has passed extensive federal tests and meets the tight standards set out for the ocean site in an agreement they themselves negotiated with Vice President Al Gore.

The connection between the two issues is simple. Dredging in the Port of New York and New Jersey - which is vital to handling modern cargo ships - will become far more difficult and expensive if the group and the politicians gain the power they seek over dredging decisions. Ships increasingly will migrate to other ports outside the region. Their New Jersey-bound cargo will be hauled overland, primarily by truck. Conservatively, that could add several hundred thousand truck trips to New Jersey highways each year.

That's going to make the state's efforts to clean its air - like the hated new inspection system - even more demanding.

The advocacy group isn't going to be concerned. Its issue is the ocean, not air quality. But what will the politicians say to the public? It's a good bet they won't talk about the clear connection between dredging and air quality.