Dredge Report: Mission Accomplished?

Oct 6, 2015

Credit wikipedia.org

General Electric says it has completed its sixth and final year of dredging sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls from the upper Hudson River.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt said in a news release Monday that the company met every obligation so far under the massive $2 billion federal Superfund project. Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE discharged PCBs into the river decades ago during a time when they were used as coolants in electrical equipment.  GE spokesman Mark Behan:   "The Hudson River Dredging Project really was an unprecedented environmental project and an engineering triumph, in our view. EPA called it 'the largest environmental dredging project ever in the United States,'  and the completion they hailed as 'a historic achievement.' We brought the best of GE engineering and technology to the project, the size and scope of which had never been attempted before. We met every obligation and commitment on this project. We kept our word. And we're very proud of our work."

Some 2.75 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment has been removed from a 40-mile stretch of river north of Albany.    "Our crews dredged the final bucket of sediment at 5:55 P.M. Saturday evening. They'll continue working into November as we lay down clean sediment in the areas that were dredged, as clean sediment is used as a basis for replanting underwater vegetation for use as fish habitat and food sources.  And then, for the next several years, we'll be monitoring river conditions to help New York State and EPA assess the benefits of the Hudson River Dredging project."

Several environmental groups, including Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson and the Natural Resources Defense Council want to hold GE's feet to the fire and keep dredging going forward.  In a statement to the press, Riverkeeper staff attorney Abigail Jones is quoted, saying, “GE is living in an 'eco-imaginary' world if it believes its dredging of the Hudson River is anywhere near complete... All of this puts the health of our families and the restoration of one of America’s most precious resources at risk.” Riverkeeper had no one available for comment today.

Ned Sullivan is president of Scenic Hudson.   "GE is leaving in place some 35 percent of the toxic PCBs that meet the standard for requiring cleanup, covering about over a hundred acres of river bottom. GE's liability is by no means complete."

Sullivan says at least two more seasons of dredging are needed for more suitable remediation.

In late September, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sent a letter to the Obama administration, complaining that GE’s current plan would leave fish in the river “unacceptably contaminated” with PCBs. Dan Raichel is a staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.  "New information from federal agencies demonstrates that the river is gonna be much dirtier and much less usable than expected at the beginning of the cleanup process.  EPA needs to reassess the efficacy of the cleanup and ensure that its really meeting the goal that it set 12 years ago to protect New Yorkers and to protect the environment."

GE admits that the cleanup is far from over, but not as far as dredging is concerned. Behan says there is much more to be done.    "We'll be monitoring environmental conditions for the foreseeable future to assess the benefits of the dredging project. We'll be focusing on the flood plains, to assess whether PCBs are present in those low-lying areas along the shoreline, working with EPA. And we'll be continuing the cleanup of our Hudson Falls and Fort Edward plants. And we intend to bring the same standard of excellence that was brought to the dredging project to all of our continuing cleanup work on the Hudson."

The river will also be subject to constant monitoring, likely for many years to come.  Ned Sullivan reiterates the need for additional dredging.    "We are calling on EPA and Governor Cuomo to require GE to do this."

The Cuomo administration has backed away from commenting - which the Times Union reports is tied to the governor's ongoing effort to persuade GE to move its corporate headquarters to New York.

The DEC and EPA did not return calls for comment in time for broadcast.