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Final Season Of Hudson River PCB Dredging Begins

Composite Image by Dave Lucas (WAMC)

The sixth and final season of dredging the upper Hudson River is now under way, part of an estimated $2 billion Superfund project.

Prior to 1977, GE discharged some 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river. A 200-mile stretch of the Hudson down to New York City was listed as a Superfund site in 1984. Cleanup was delayed amid opposition from GE and some residents. GE dropped public opposition after the EPA issued a decision calling for dredging in 2002. The cleanup finally began in 2009.

Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator Judith Enck says 2015 is an important year in the history of the river.  "Those of you from the Albany area in the Hudson River you remember all of those TV commercials where people said that this could not be done effectively  and protective of the environment. These TV and radio commercials predicted that dredging would makes things worse, not better for the river, predicted terrible impacts on communities along the Hudson shores, and predicted there would be a terrible economic price to be paid. Today we know that none of those predictions proved to be true."

Approximately 2.5 million tons of PCB-contaminated sediments from the bottom of a 40-mile stretch of the upper Hudson between Fort Edward and Troy have already been removed.

Enck noted the EPA is not opposed to additional dredging:  "EPA supports efforts by the Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees to address potential injury to natural resources through their NRD claims process. There definitely are some logistical challenges here in terms of whether the dewatering plant stays up or comes down. If the Natural Resource Trustees reach an agreement with GE, EPA is very happy to keep that infrastructure in place. However, we need to know very soon. We're planning to wrap up by this fall. At the same time, I know there's tremendous interest in dredging the New York State Canal."

Enck says EPA was not able to include the canal in its dredging plan because the agency performs ecological dredging, not navigational dredging, which entails the deepening of the river channel.  But she adds EPA would coordinate with the Canal Corporation if an agreement with GE can be reached.

GE spokesman Mark Behan says navigational dredging is not part of the environmental dredging project.  "Thousands of boats travel through the canal every year. The Canal Corporation itself has said the canal is fully operational and navigable. If navigational dredging is determined to be necessary at some future date, that really is the responsibility of the New York Canal Corporation, not GE."

General Electric says by the end of 2015 a total 3.3 million tons will have been removed.  Behan says habitat restoration and other work on the river will continue...  "...with the ongoing cleanup of GE plant sites and habitat reconstruction on the river in areas that were dredged, the continued monitoring of environmental conditions, and perhaps most significantly, a major evaluation that GE will conduct on the flood plain, those low-lying, shoreline areas along the river, building on several years of significant sampling and remedial work that we've already done in those areas."

Behan adds that "when dredging is complete this fall, GE will have addressed 100 percent of the PCBs that EPA has targeted."

The dewatering facility will be decommissioned under EPA’s supervision.

Margaret Byrne, assessment and restoration manager for Hudson River Natural Resource Damage Assessment, told reporters she could not comment as to whether any negotiations were under way to keep the dewatering plant open. Enck says if some kind of agreement were to be reached, the EPA would be happy to keep the facility.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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