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Lawmakers Ask GE, Cuomo For More Dredging

Dredging of the Hudson River

A vast majority of New York State Assemblymembers this week sent letters to General Electric and Governor Andrew Cuomo asking for more PCB removal along the Hudson River.

GE’s EPA-approved plan to remove toxic PCB chemicals from the Hudson River wraps up this fall. But more than 140 members of the New York State Assembly are urging General Electric to dredge additional PCB hotspots throughout the river.

Democratic Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner’s district includes Washington and Saratoga Counties, where the dredging is taking place.

“I think that the task of cleaning up the section of the Hudson River from the southern end of the Champlain Canal, north to Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, is not fully done, and while the facilities are still in place, we need GE to finish the job.”

Assemnblyman Dan Stec of Queensbury is the ranking Republican on the Assembly’s Environmental Conversation Committee. He says the time to act is now as GE works to finish its final season of dredging.

“Mobilization of the effort is a big part of the expense, so once the equipment is packed up and leaves, that’s a big deal to ever say ‘Hey, you know, we wish we would have done this 10 years ago. Let’s try to bring it back here.’  So the appropriate time to say that we’re sure we’re satisfied and we’re sure that we’re done, and that a good place for the community is to do it now,” said Stec.

General Electric is standing by its work plan approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Spokesman Mark Behan…

“What the Assemblymembers are asking for is something that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said is not necessary, and that is additional dredging in the Hudson River. When GE completes its work this year on the Hudson, the dredging project, we will have addressed 100 percent of the PCB’s that EPA targeted.”

Environmental groups want more cleanup too. Althea Mullarkey, Public Policy and Special Project Analyst at Scenic Hudson, says GE is obligated to clean up more than is sought by EPA.

“They know and everyone else is very well aware that they have liabilities and responsibilities beyond the EPA mandated cleanup, which we’ve known all along is not enough. They’re not getting enough out.”

The letter cites work done by the Federal Trustees, state and federal agencies that have been working on a Natural Resources Damagaes Assessment to assess the company’s liability to the public. It also mentions a report by the Hudson’s Contamination Assessment and Reduction Project that called the PCB contamination an “economic ball and chain.”

EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck said in May EPA acknowledged the desire by others, including the Trustees, to pursue additional dredging in the New York State Canal.

“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.”

GE’s work on the Hudson will continue after the dredging phase is ended this fall., including habitat restoration work and PCB monitoring.

Again, company spokesman Mark Behan. 

“EPA considered even larger dredging projects but it ultimately selected a project that was more balanced where there was very significant dredging in some parts of the river and less dredging in others. And the reason it chose that balanced approach was to ensure the project delivered the environmental benefits that it should deliver with the least risk to the river and wildlife and ecology, and the least disruption to communities along the river.”

A call to Governor Cuomo's office for comment on the letter was not returned.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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