Leaders of environmental watchdog organizations toured the Hudson River PCB dredge locations Wednesday and said they are impressed with the efficient work being done but would like to see dredging expanded next year.
“The dredging being done is making a difference,” said Paul Gallay, who is the designated Hudson Riverkeeper. “It’s the work not being done that we are concerned about.”
Gallay, along with Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson, and Manna Jo Greene, environmental director for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, were given a boat tour of the dredging project to remove toxic PCBs from the bottom of the upper Hudson River between Fort Edward and Troy.
“Our concern is for future years [of dredging],” said Sullivan.
“It is very, very impressive what is going on now,” he said about the boat tour conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday afternoon.
This is the second year of the second phase of the dredge project that the EPA ordered General Electric Co. to do back in 2002. GE capacitor plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward discharged an estimated 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls, considered a probable carcinogen, into the Hudson for a 30-year period ending in 1977, when the practice was banned by the government.
The environmental groups’ concerns are about 136 acres of river bottom between the Thompson Island Dam and the Northumberland Dam on the upper Hudson that are significantly contaminated by PCBs but are not within the footprint of the federally approved dredge project.
Mark L. Behan, a GE spokesman, said Wednesday that the EPA recently reached a final decision on the extent of dredging after a five-year review. This decision reaffirmed the original design of the project as protective of the environment and human health, he said, adding that “GE is following the final decision.”
Sullivan said the EPA and GE are cooperating very well on the dredge project as well as in backfilling areas already dredged with clean fill and the planting of native aquatic vegetation in those areas.
He said during this year’s dredging, which is being conducted two miles below Fort Edward, between Washington and Saratoga counties, GE has expanded the areas it is dredging when tests show PCB contamination extends beyond the planned footprint of the dredge area.
David King, director of the EPA’s Hudson River Field Office in Fort Edward, said in each dredge season GE takes additional river-bottom samples near the project perimeters. He said the company extended the dredging footprint by about 1.5 acres this season to include contaminated river-bottom areas.
He said GE is taking river-bottom core samples this summer in the area to be dredged in 2013 and possibly 2014. He said those samples will indicate contamination near areas that will be dredged.
King suggested the trustees of the Hudson River natural resources damage program discuss the 136 acres in question with GE in order to possibly include these outside areas in next year’s dredging.
“Now is the time to do it,” he said.
Behan said this year’s dredging season, which started in May and will end in late October, is going smoothly. A total of 133,000 cubic yards of contaminated river sediment has been dredged over the past six weeks. The season’s goal is 350,000 cubic yards.