TRENTON, N.J. – South Jersey Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer says a centuries-old interstate fight with Delaware over the coastline of Salem County is about securing economic prosperity for future generations.
“It’s time to bring this agreement into the 21st century and look at what makes the most sense for the people of South Jersey. Salem County’s economic security shouldn’t be tied to Delaware,” Sawyer (R-Gloucester) said.
According to a 1682 agreement between England’s Duke of York and William Penn, the Delaware River up to the coast of New Jersey is Delaware’s territory. New Jersey has unsuccessfully challenged the dispute three times to the Supreme Court. This, the lawmaker argues, is making it impossible to do little more than recreational fishing from the shoreline.
“We’ve tried to bring jobs to South Jersey by building infrastructure at Penns Grove, but Delaware won’t let us, because we need to go into the river. This border dispute has depressed an entire area for generations and stymied prospects for the blue-collar workers that call Penns Grove home,” Sawyer added.
To the east of Wilmington, Del., and across the river is Penns Grove, N.J. It is .9 square miles and has approximately 4,800 residents. Thirty-seven percent of the Salem County borough’s population currently lives in poverty and only 50% of the labor force is employed. The median household income is $32,361, which is $57,000 less than the state’s median income.
“Our efforts to bring in a natural gas pipeline, commercial fishing, good jobs and opportunities for the people of Salem County have been stonewalled – it gives current residents little options and little hope,” Sawyer said.
In 1905, Delaware and New Jersey signed an agreement allowing New Jersey to undertake development projects extending into its side of the river and giving Delaware control of the entire river. Delaware says that the compact gives them the authority to block projects they deem dangerous or a nuisance.
“Salem County values our rich and wonderful history, but we cannot continue to recognize an ancient agreement when it only serves to harm our future,” Sawyer said. “We need to think generationally. We need to build up industries that will support our vision for a vibrant economy. This is something I know other officials also believe in.”
The freshman Republican, who hails from the 3rd Legislative District and helped defeat the second most powerful politician in the state during the November 2021 election, acknowledged that she is considering involving federal representatives. She also has not ruled out appealing directly to the residents of Delaware.
“The citizens of Delaware are very proud of being the first state to ratify the Constitution,” she said, “I don’t see how they can support a centuries old deal, dictated by the British crown, to oppress their neighbors in New Jersey.
“I am not afraid of a challenge and I am committed to working out a solution that will ultimately benefit South Jersey,” Sawyer said.