After 20 years of discussion, controversy, delays, testing and designing, the Hudson River PCB dredging is scheduled to start later this month.
A 110-acre, multimillion-dollar river sludge processing and transportation facility in Fort Edward has been built and tested.
The complex along the Champlain Barge Canal is ready for the start of dredging of contaminated sediment from the river bottom in mid-May, project officials say.
“We are ready to begin when the [Environmental Protection Agency] gives us the word in the next few weeks,” Mark Behan, a spokesman for General Electric Co., said.
Nearly 20 tugboats, 18 river barges and 12 dredge platforms with excavators on them are ready to be deployed in the Hudson River for the project’s first phase near Rogers Island between Fort Edward and Moreau.
“Everything has come together very well,” said David King, the EPA’s Hudson River field office director. “I’m impressed with the work [GE and its contractors] have been doing.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered GE to pay for the estimated $780 million PCB cleanup project in 2002 after 10 years of site studies, river testing and public hearings.
GE plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls discharged approximately 1.3 million pounds of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, considered a probable carcinogen) into the upper Hudson for 30 years, ending in 1977 when the practice was banned by the government.
YEARS OF DELAY
The first phase of dredging was supposed to start in 2004 but was delayed by factors including legal issues and the complexity of designing and planning one of the largest environmental dredging projects in the nation’s history.
John Haggard, GE’s Hudson River project director, said that within the next few weeks about 18 dredge platforms with closed clamshell bucket dredges will be placed in the Rogers Island area.
The 160-foot-long barges are being transported upriver from Troy, where they have been docked waiting for the May 1 opening of the Champlain Barge Canal.
“Phase one is a full-scale test,” Behan said. “Can the performance standards be achieved?”
The EPA, in its record of decision, said the PCB cleanup project must achieve three carefully structured standards: productivity, limited resuspension of PCBs and limited residual PCBs left on the river bottom after dredging. The first phase of dredging will be conducted in six months this spring through late fall.
A total of 500 workers, about half of them from the greater Capital Region, will be employed during the dredging. Dozens of contractors are involved.
Work on the river will be conducted day and night, six days per week.
Haggard said 400,000 tons of PCB-contaminated river sediment will be removed during this phase.
Once this test phase is completed, the results will be studied by the EPA and GE. Their reports will be presented to an independent panel of scientists and engineers, who will make recommendations.
The larger, second phase of the project will be conducted on the Hudson between Fort Edward and Troy after the recommendations are included in the design of this phase.
GE has said it will not commit to performing the second phase until it sees what the recommended changes will be.
The tug boats will push the barges full of river sediment up and down the Hudson to Lock 7, where the barges and tugs will enter the Champlain Barge Canal and travel one mile north to the huge processing, treatment and transportation facility in Fort Edward.
The material will be removed at a specially built landing wharf. Large pieces such as trees, shopping carts and other debris will be removed. The river sludge will then be sent through the processing and water removal facilities.
The material will be piped into a large gravity thickener, where polymer will be added to clump larger sediment particles together. The thickened slurry will be pumped into the filter press building, where water will be squeezed from it.
All of the water from various processes at the site will be treated in a large water treatment plant, PCBs remaining will be removed through a carbon filter process and the cleaned, treated water will be returned to the barge canal.
The filtered, squeezed sludge (called “filter cake”) will be loaded onto gondola railroad cars.
The trains will be placed on nearly seven miles of new railroad siding at the site.
Once loaded, the rail cars will be connected as 81-car trains and transported to a permitted, hazardous waste landfill in Andrews, Texas, near the New Mexico border.
The towns of Waterford, Halfmoon and Stillwater and the villages of Waterford and Stillwater have joined in a lawsuit against GE and the EPA to delay the start of dredging for a year until the communities are guaranteed that a source of safe, alternative water is available to these communities.
The towns take their water from the Hudson River and are afraid that dredging will resuspend PCBs in the river water and the contamination will enter their drinking water supplies.
Lawyers for both GE and the EPA have moved in U.S. District Court in Albany to dismiss the lawsuit. The court has not yet ruled on the case, officials said.
King of the EPA said a $7 million water line that brings water from Troy under the Hudson River to water plants in Waterford and Halfmoon is finished and being tested.
He said carbon filters on the well system in the village of Stillwater are also being installed and tested.
The wells in Stillwater are located near the Hudson and have been found to contain low levels of PCBs.
King said the EPA, which is paying for the pipeline and carbon filter system along with GE, is working with the towns of Waterford and Halfmoon on ways to make sure a chlorine residue remains in the pipeline when it is not in use.
Officials in the communities want to use Troy water during the entire six-year dredging project.
But the EPA has ruled that the Troy water can only be used when PCBs are found by monitoring to actually be resuspended in the river water and reach a certain level (500 parts per trillion PCBs) in the water.