Hudson flooding could taint banks

Not only is the unusually high and fast Hudson River delaying the start of the PCB dredge project, t

Not only is the unusually high and fast Hudson River delaying the start of the PCB dredge project, the high water is also sending river bottom sludge onto areas where the Hudson has gone over its banks.

“We are collecting representative samples of mud in recreational areas that have flooded,” said Mark L. Behan, a spokesman for General Electric Co. He said GE contractors will collect 150 samples from 34 locations.

Experts fear that the river sediments washed up onto residential and recreational property may contain PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, a probable carcinogen) and will need to be cleaned up or capped. The flood plain cleanup work will be done later this year.

Behan said that on April 29 the upper Hudson reached its highest and fastest reading since 1949 at 49,500 cubic feet per second. On Wednesday the river was running at 30,000 cfs, which Behan said is still three times too high and fast for a safe dredging operation. Dredging requires dozens of barges, a number of tug boats, and the dredges themselves.

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered GE in 2002 to conduct and pay for the massive cleanup of PCBs in the 40-mile stretch of the Hudson between Fort Edward and Troy.

David King, the director of the EPA’s Hudson River Field Office in Fort Edward, said on Wednesday dredging had been scheduled to start Monday.

“Now we’ve got to wait,” King said. The high water will mean a three- or four-week delay in the start of dredging. “There is nothing you can do about it,” King said.

GE contractors didn’t dredge last season because the results of the first phase of the dredge project, conducted in 2009, were being evaluated by a panel of independent scientists. The second phase of dredging is expected to last between five and seven years.

When the river water level drops, the dredging of river-bottom sediment will start on the west side of Rogers Island off the town of Moreau and then move south year by year. Dredging will be conducted 24 hours per day, six days a week from May through October or early November.

“Our equipment and crews are mobilized and are ready to work as soon as [river conditions] allow it,” Behan said. Work at the project’s large river sludge processing and transportation center in Fort Edward near Lock No. 7 of the Champlain Barge Canal has continued.

Because of the high water, the state Canal Corporation has not yet opened the canal system, including the Champlain canal that runs from the upper Hudson north to Lake Champlain. The canal system must be open before dredging can start, Behan said.

GE scientists and contractors are also evaluating the sand, crushed stone, and clean backfill caps that were placed on the river bottom after the 2009 dredging phase. He said the high and fast river may have affected these as well.

When contractors dredged PCB-contaminated sediment from the upper Hudson in 2009, they used clean backfill to return the river bottom to its original grade.

GE capacitor plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward discharged an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson for 30 years until 1977 when the government banned the practice. The company says its has spent more than $850 million on various PCB-related projects over the past decade.

Categories: Schenectady County

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