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Protesters Seek Additional Hudson River Dredging

Lucas Willard

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held the second of two public information sessions on the agency’s second five-year review of the Hudson River Superfund Cleanup. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard was at the meeting in Saratoga Springs Wednesday night, where protesters gathered outside.

“What do we want? Healthy Hudson! When do we want it? Now!”

The crowd of protesters outside the Saratoga Hilton had a simple message for the EPA - remove PCBs from the Hudson River. General Electric’s dredging of the forty-mile stretch from Fort Edward to Troy wrapped up in 2015.

New York state Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, a Democrat who represents several riverfront communities in Saratoga and Washington Counties, spoke at the megaphone and held up a letter signed by more than forty state lawmakers asking G.E. to continue its cleanup.

“We have the right to a clean river. It has impacted property values, it has impacted small businesses, it has impacted our ability to attract tourists to this region, and we cannot accept this,” said Woerner.

The second five-year review came after 2.75 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment were removed from the river. EPA says the 310,000 pounds of PCBs removed were more than twice the amount anticipated. The report did not call for additional dredging.

In its June report, EPA said the results of the cleanup were “generally consistent” with what was expected. Elevated levels of PCBs still exist in fish. The report says that fish have begun to recover after dredging and PCB levels in fish are nearing pre-dredging levels. More data collection and monitoring will continue.

Outgoing president of the National Sierra Club Aaron Mair said as a child, before the 1972 Clean Water Act, he learned to swim in the Hudson River.

“My culture, Caribbean culture, Southern culture and heritage, is a river culture. Which meant that we depended heavily upon a relationship with the Hudson River. My family at that particular point in time, we supplement our meals with the day’s catch from the Hudson River,” said Mair.

The New York state Department of Health sets fish consumption advisories.

The EPA said in about 15 years, some people will be able to safely eat one fish from the Hudson every two months. It will be more than 55 years before some people will be able to eat one fish per week. The agency says more dredging would not significantly improve that timeline.

Mair was critical of both political parties and claimed communities of color along the Hudson are being “sold out.”

“And we’re here this evening to say ‘no deal.’”

Ed Klinowsi, Republican Town Supervisor from Stillwater and chair of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, said he believes the fight for a clean river is indicative of many other issues across the U.S.

“And it’s taken years to get us here,” said Klinowski. “We need to keep on fighting. We’re going to have to fight from now into our future, quite frankly, in order to right the wrongs that have occurred early and on throughout the years of our nation. And so the bottom line is, we know what to do, so let’s do the right thing.”

Some officials have also pushed for PCB cleanup in the Champlain Canal. The canal has not had navigational dredging in years because of the PCB contamination.

Gary Klawinski, EPA’s Hudson River Project Director, said comments will be accepted until September 1. 

Such a comment period, already extended 90 days, is not typically held for five-year reviews.

Klawinski remarked on the number of comments coming in, including at a meeting held last month in Poughkeepsie.

“There were quite a number of people there, over a hundred people.   And we have been seeing comments rolling in. We’ve been very busy so we haven’t had a chance to compile them yet and review them, but we’re getting quite a few,” said Klawinski.

If the EPA determines recovery is not occurring as expected, it will consider alternative steps. The next phase of the cleanup includes studying floodplain contamination.

General Electric commented on the second five-year review in June.

Spokesman Mark Behan said the company will “continue to support the ongoing assessment of environmental conditions in the river and work closely with EPA, New York State, local communities and others committed to the goal of a cleaner Hudson.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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