Saratoga County

GE pays $7.95M to settle lawsuit

General Electric has paid $7.95 million to settle a federal lawsuit with three Saratoga County commu
Dredging work to remove PCBs from the upper Hudson River is pictured early in 2010.
Dredging work to remove PCBs from the upper Hudson River is pictured early in 2010.

General Electric has paid $7.95 million to settle a federal lawsuit with three Saratoga County communities that contended their water supply costs rose because of the company’s Hudson River PCB dredging project.

The out-of-court settlement involved the village of Stillwater and the towns of Stillwater and Waterford, which formerly drew their drinking water supplies from the river, or from wells close to it.

The communities contended in a federal lawsuit filed in 2009 that they should be compensated for the costs of making other water arrangements during the current dredging project.

The village of Stillwater, which built a new water line to connect to the Saratoga County Water Authority, is in for the biggest share of the money available after legal fees are deducted from the settlement — just over $4 million.

Stillwater Mayor Ernest Martin said the village’s added costs have actually been more, but he was “convinced by our attorneys that we were unlikely to do any better.”

The village isn’t deciding how the money will be spent until it reaches a separate agreement concerning the settlement’s distribution with the town of Stillwater, Martin said.

“We can pay the water line off or whatever, as long as it has to do with water,” Martin said.

The settlement was reached in March, and a stipulation discontinuing their participation in a larger lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Albany in late April.

The fact of a tentative settlement was known previously, but not the amount General Electric paid. The parties signed a confidentiality agreement, but sources confirmed the settlement totaled $7.9 million, from which legal fees and expenses will be deducted.

The lawsuit also includes the town of Halfmoon, which isn’t part of the settlement.

The GE litigation with Halfmoon continues, as it does with the Saratoga County Water Authority, which contends it had to spend $27 million extra on the county water system because the closest parts of the Hudson River were PCB-contaminated, forcing it to take water upstream from Glens Falls.

GE spokesman Mark Behan said the company would also like to reach a settlement with the other parties.

“We would like to reach a fair and reasonable resolution,” he said Thursday.

The communities filed their lawsuit in February 2009, the same year the project to dredge PCBs from the Hudson began, following decades of regulatory review, debate and negotiations.

GE is paying for the dredging, which is being done under the supervision of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is expected to cost more than $1 billion.

When the lawsuit was filed, there was concern in the three communities that the dredging would stir up PCBs buried in the river bottom and release them into the river, potentially affecting downstream drinking water.

The village of Stillwater took water from groundwater wells close to the river. GE initially paid for a $1 million filtration system to remove any PCBs. However, the village subsequently connected to the county Water Authority system in 2011, which required running six miles of new water main, at a cost of $4.5 million. The village got a low-interest federal Department of Agriculture loan to finance the line, but village water customers have had to take on the debt.

Even if the line is paid off through the lawsuit, Martin said the village’s water costs are higher than they were before dredging.

“When we were producing water ourselves at our treatment plant, we could do it for $1.50 per 1,000 gallons,” the mayor said. “We are paying $2.12 per 1,000 to the Saratoga County Water Authority.”

The town of Stillwater, because it buys water from the village, also has incurred higher costs, the lawsuit contended.

The Waterford Water Authority, which sells water to the town and village of Waterford, used to take water directly from the Hudson, but stopped when the dredging began. It now gets its water from the city of Troy through a pipe paid for by GE, but the town sought compensation for the added cost of its water purchases. It will receive $1.45 million.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, a suspected carcinogen, were discharged from GE plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward between 1946 and 1977. The EPA ordered the dredging in 2002, largely over the objections of local communities like those who drew water from the river and feared dredging would cause PCB levels to spike.

The multi-year dredging effort, which had the strong support of environmental groups, is expected to wrap up in 2015.

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