New Jersey, Delaware Dispute Their Border - Again

By Richey, Warren | The Christian Science Monitor, November 27, 2007 | Go to article overview

New Jersey, Delaware Dispute Their Border - Again


Richey, Warren, The Christian Science Monitor


A proposal to build a liquefied natural gas plant on the banks of the Delaware River has rekindled a centuries-old border dispute between New Jersey and Delaware.

New Jersey officials say the LNG plant would produce 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day - enough to supply every home in New Jersey, Delaware, and eastern Pennsylvania. Economists estimate that the project could generate more than $1 billion in new jobs and other economic benefits in the region.

But officials in neighboring Delaware refuse to allow the Jersey- based project to go forward. They say the new plant would threaten Delaware's coastal environment and could become a target for a terrorist attack.

On Tuesday, New Jersey and Delaware submit their differences to the US Supreme Court in an attempt to solve an interstate feud that stems from a land grant made by the Duke of York in 1682.

It marks the third time in 130 years the high court has been asked to address the border dispute. In 1877, it was a disagreement over fishing rights. In 1934, it was joint claims to oyster beds.

At issue in the most recent dispute is how much control Delaware can exert over development projects on New Jersey's side of the river.

Normally, Delaware would have no authority to stop such a project under way in New Jersey. But the LNG plant requires construction of a pier stretching 2,000 feet into the Delaware River, where up to three tankers per week would be offloaded.

Under the 1682 land grant, Delaware owns and controls the entire river in the northern part of the state, including the submerged lands on the New Jersey side of the river where the pier and tanker loading area would be located.

So while Delaware could not stop construction of the plant on the river bank, it is claiming the power to effectively block the project by refusing to allow construction of the pier and tanker loading area.

The border battle has prompted some tongue-in-cheek banter about mustering the Delaware National Guard to protect its territory. Jersey officials responded by saying they might redeploy the battleship New Jersey, now a tourist attraction, into the contested region.

More recently officials on both sides have declined comment, saying their positions are set out in legal briefs.

The dispute traces back to a 325-year-old real estate deal between England's Duke of York and William Penn. In August 1682, the duke granted a large section of what would become Delaware to Penn. The boundary of the grant was set by drawing a circle with a 12- mile radius centered on the courthouse in New Castle, Del. A portion of that same circle can be seen on modern maps as Delaware's curved northern border with Pennsylvania.

Where the unusual border arrangement gets legally tricky is the point at which it meets New Jersey at the Delaware River. …

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