General Electric will pay the Saratoga County Water Authority $5.3 million to settle a federal lawsuit that said the cost of the county water system was driven up by GE’s pollution of the Hudson River.
The settlement was reached Tuesday during a conference in federal court in Albany, and is scheduled for action by the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Tuesday in Ballston Spa.
“It’s good news,” said Waterford Town Supervisor John E. Lawler, who is chairman of the Water Authority. “It’s a settlement for a sizable sum of money, and we are pleased to put it behind us.”
The Water Authority will vote on accepting the settlement at a May 26 meeting, Lawler said.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Albany in 2011, alleged that GE’s contamination of the Hudson with polychlorined biphenyls, or PCBs, drove up the cost of constructing the county water system, because it has to take water from the Hudson upstream of the contamination in Moreau. More than 30 miles of pipe bring that water to the southern part of the county, where most of the authority’s customers are.
“If we could, it would make more sense to build a plant in Stillwater than in Moreau, and avoid building 20 miles of pipe,” Lawler said Wednesday, after the county board’s Law and Finance Committee recommended the settlement’s approval.
GE spokesman Mark Behan said the settlement “is an appropriate resolution to what has become protracted litigation.”
Lawler said it isn’t decided how the money would be used, but one possibility is repaying roughly $4 million the county loaned to the authority when it was running start-up deficits. The authority, which started sales in 2010, became profitable for the first time in 2015.
The county water system cost $67 million to build. Its primary customer is the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Malta, though a number of towns also buy water.
The lawsuit charged that the Water Authority during design and construction incurred $27 million in additional costs to avoid the PCB-contaminated sections of the Hudson — primarily because of the cost of the 27-mile water line from Moreau to Malta.
A 40-mile stretch of the river below Hudson Falls and Fort Edward was contaminated by GE plants in those communities between 1946 and 1977. GE last fall wrapped up a more than a $1 billion dredging project to clean the most-contaminated parts of the river.
The county system was designed between 2006 and 2008, before the dredging started. Authority engineers never seriously looked at using the contaminated section of the Hudson. Construction began in 2008.
The county authority’s case followed lawsuits filed against GE in 2009 by the riverfront towns of Stillwater, Halfmoon and Waterford and villages of Waterford and Stillwater, alleging that they incurred additional costs for their municipal water systems because of the PCB dredging.
In 2014, GE paid $7.95 million to settle the federal lawsuits with the town and village of Stillwater and with Waterford. The case brought by the town of Halfmoon is still pending in federal court.