Two warning signs went up this spring at the new kayak launch at Hudson Crossing Park, telling users the soil may contain PCBs.
They were put up after testing found PCBs at the launch, even though they were already dredged last year from upstream sections of the Hudson River.
Local officials are afraid such signs and others like them will discourage kayakers and other recreational users of the river, which could hurt efforts to develop a recreation and tourism-based economy.
“The economic development potential is a really big issue,” said Greenwich town Supervisor Sarah Idleman on Wednesday as leaders from Saratoga and Washington counties pressed their case that General Electric should do more to remove PCBs from the Hudson and areas around the river. They held a press conference in Hudson Crossing Park as a dredging barge sat in the canal channel behind them.
The officials are looking for GE to dredge spots in the river not previously dredged, and they also want the corporation to remove PCBs found in the old Champlain Canal, as well as those deposited on the Hudson’s floodplains.
“There needs to be complete testing, and, based on the test results, then all the areas with PCBs need to be cleaned up,” said Saratoga town Supervisor Thomas N. Wood III.
One concern with the old canal is that because of its elevation it has the potential to flood Schuylerville’s wells.
“They’ll never dredge it unless we insist,” said Dave Roberts, an involved local resident. “It is the outflow for all the village’s storm water, and it’s all silted up.”
Wood said the issues must be addressed before the sediment-processing facility in Fort Edward is shut down at the end of river dredging, which is currently scheduled for 2016.
“We believe it’s critical GE and the [Environmental Protection Agency] move forward with full testing of the floodplain,” said state Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, who represents the area.
The calls for action are coming as GE contractors near the end of a six-year effort to dredge “hot spots” of contamination from a 40-mile stretch of the river between Hudson Falls and Troy. That work is likely to end in 2015.
PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — were discharged from GE capacitor plans in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward between 1946 and 1977. They are a suspected human carcinogen.
Since 2002, GE says it has spent more than $1 billion on EPA-ordered dredging. GE and the EPA confirm there are negotiations underway over testing and remediation for areas where PCBs are found in the river’s floodplains.
Mechanicville city Supervisor Tom Richardson, chairman of the Historic Hudson-Hoosic Rivers Partnership, said the recreational potential of the river can’t be developed until concerns about PCBs are addressed.
The environmental group Scenic Hudson is also calling for additional dredging, and for GE to reach a settlement concerning the overall environmental damage that’s been done.
“It is critical to restore the health of the river,” said Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson.
Not all local residents favor more dredging or keeping the processing plant running, though. People who live near the facility in Fort Edward where contaminated sediment is unloaded from barges and dewatered want the plant to shut down as scheduled after next year.
“Five years, and we were guaranteed that would be it,” said Sharon Ruggi of Fort Edward. “For people to ask for a long extension is totally unacceptable.”
Noise, light and odor are all issues at the facility, which operates around the clock, Ruggi said.
“I have a daughter with asthma who some days can’t come visit me,” said Julie Wilson, who said she was the processing facility’s closest neighbor.
Richardson acknowledged residents’ concerns.
“We’re not looking to injure people in Fort Edward, but looking at it as a whole, I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the plant open awhile,” Richardson said.
GE, in a statement Wednesday, said studies have found additional dredging is not necessary.
“Calls to expand the dredging project are not new,” GE spokesman Mark Behan said. “The U.S. EPA, which ordered and oversees the dredging project, has evaluated whether to expand the project on multiple occasions and determined, based on the most up-to-date river data, that additional dredging is not necessary.”
The company also said navigational dredging of the Champlain Canal isn’t its responsibility.
“Navigational dredging is the responsibility of the state Canal Corp.,” Behan said. “GE is focused on the environmental dredging project and will meet all of its commitments to EPA.”
The Canal Corp. has approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about dredging the canal channel, according to several officials. The Canal Corp. last week declined comment.
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