Central Hudson is cleaning up the site of a former manufactured gas plant in the City of Poughkeepsie. The remediation is taking place on the shoreline and in the Hudson River. But until there is agreement about plans to protect the river and a drinking water source nearby, the river portion of the cleanup has been delayed.
Poughkeepsie-based Central Hudson’s $40 million environmental cleanup on the Poughkeepsie waterfront has grown by some $17 million as the company has enhanced protections for the Hudson River and the water supply for a number of communities numbering about 100,000 people. Talks about whether the enhanced plan is sufficient are ongoing. The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation recently withdrew approval for Central Hudson to begin the dredging portion of the cleanup. Martin Brand is DEC deputy commissioner for the Office of Remediation and Materials Management.
“After the incident in late 2018, we ordered the work to stop so we could reassess the monitoring and response requirements for the project. So we’re requiring a rigorous water supply protection plan to ensure protection of drinking water supplies prior to the start of Central Hudson Gas & Electric’s dredging operations,” Brand says. “We’ve been working with the state and county health departments, the city and town Joint Water Board and the filtration plant operator there in Poughkeepsie to make sure we have enhanced measures to prevent releases from the dredge area as well as protections to the water plant intake to prevent any potential drinking water impacts. And we’re not going to allow the work to start again until those protections are in place.”
Bill Carlos, who serves on the Joint Water Board at the Poughkeepsie Water Treatment plant that is visible upriver from the cleanup site, says the treatment plant had to shut down temporarily one day in December 2018 because of a sheen that was found.
“The plant was built, or it started, in 1869. That’s four years after the Civil War. It’s been here a long time. They’ve never had sheen before. The project starts; we get sheen in the water,” Carlos says. “Central Hudson’s immediate reaction is, we did a test, and it’s not our sheen. So I said, it’s been here over 100 years; they’ve never had sheen. You start your project, now there’s sheen.”
John Maserjian is Central Hudson spokesman.
“The incident that had happened last December may have been coincidental in that we had an independent lab test the materials that were found in the water plant, and we don’t see a correlation between what was found and the materials that we were removing,” says Maserjian. “However, I think it was a wakeup call for everyone that we need to be cautious and careful, and that is the reason why we enhanced the plan, and that is why we’re discussing the project with the stakeholders presently.”
Again, Carlos, who also is Poughkeepsie Town councilman.
“In that sheen that was in the plant, pyrene is in it. That’s a carcinogen. It’s a known carcinogen, and it was in the plant,” Carlos says. “We have to shut down. We can’t let that go out. That’s the problem.”
Dan Shapley is water quality program director for Riverkeeper. He says there are more than 7 acres of coal tar on the bottom of the Hudson River, some of it 60 feet down, under the Walkway Over the Hudson pedestrian bridge.
“So this cleanup is a good thing. It’s designed to remove that pollution from the river, which is what we want to see happen,” Shapley says. “However, the project wasn’t adequately designed with the idea that we have drinking water intakes very near to the site of the cleanup. Poughkeepsie’s drinking water plant is about 3,000 feet from site of the cleanup. It’s visible from the Walkway Over the Hudson and clearly very close.”
“Our permit to begin dredging is presently on hold, and the reason for that is so that we can discuss our cleanup plan and make sure that everyone feels comfortable with moving forward with the additional protections that are in place,” Maserjian says. “And we’re also hearing some ideas for other protections that we may want to incorporate into the project.”
Carlos says the Joint Water Board is involved in discussions, as is the Hudson 7, a collaboration of the mid-Hudson municipalities that draw drinking water from the river. Again, DEC’s Brand.
“Well, we’re pushing the company to get this, an adequate water supply protection plan to us. And we’ll certainly, once it’s in good shape and something that we can approve, we’ll turn it around very quickly,” says Brand. “So we’re all working together quickly to get this work up and running. It’s important that this remediation work start up again, but we don’t want to do it without adequate protections in place.”
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro:
“Central Hudson has yet to develop a plan acceptable to the community and to the DEC that adequately protects the water supplies. We are working with the Hudson 7 and Central Hudson to ensure that whatever remediation goes forward meets the standard and the expectation that drinking water will be protected and the Hudson River will be protected. And that has yet to be achieved," Molinaro says. "And with the DEC we agree that they should not proceed until and such time that can be guaranteed.”
Central Hudson’s Maserjian believes agreement on revised plans is getting close. He says the dredging work can only occur from September through the end of January, weather permitting, because of fish migrations. He is hopeful that the dredging portion of the cleanup can begin this year. Maserjian says the river cleanup will take two-to-three seasons, possibly extending into 2022.
The Poughkeepsie waterfront cleanup is the fifth former manufactured gas plant site Central Hudson is remediating, following ones in Newburgh, Catskill, Kingston and another site in Poughkeepsie.