Dredging to remove toxic PCBs from the upper Hudson River was only delayed a little more than a day by Hurricane Irene, federal officials said.
Gary Klawinski, a project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency, said high water prevented dredging on Monday, but the river dredging started again Tuesday about two miles south of Fort Edward.
“It wasn’t that bad up here,” Klawinski said about rain and damage from last Sunday’s tropical storm. The dredge project work is conducted 24 hours a day six days a week with no dredging on Sundays.
General Electric Co., whose contractors are doing the dredge work, made sure all their smaller boats were removed from the river Saturday before the storm.
The large barges that are used to bring dredged river sediment from the Hudson River to a processing plant on the Champlain Canal in Fort Edward were moved up into the canal and tied down prior to the storm.
The state-of-the-art river sludge dewatering and processing plant did not lose power and was not flooded to any extent. Klawinski said Fort Edward received just over 4 inches of rain from the storm.
The EPA ordered GE to conduct and pay for the estimated $850 million environmental dredging project in 2002. GE capacitor plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls discharged PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, a probable carcinogen) for 30 years, ending in 1977 when the practice was banned by the government.
The first phase of the dredge project was conducted in 2009. The much larger second phase of the cleanup — expected to take between five and seven years — started this June.
Both Klawinski and Mark L. Behan, a GE spokesman, said dredging is going smoothly this year.
“Considering the unprecedented weather challenges, dredging is going remarkably well,” Behan said.
Klawinski said the dredging goal for this season is 350,000 cubic yards of contaminated river bottom sediment.
He said the goal will be hard to meet because very high and fast river water this spring delayed the start of the work for three weeks. So far 168,000 cubic yards of sediment have been dredged. The material is processed and loaded onto covered train cars in Fort Edward for shipment to hazardous waste landfills in the western United States.
“This project is on target,” Behan said.
The work during the second phase has not caused the PCB resuspension problems in the river seen during dredging in 2009, EPA officials said. One of the reasons for this is that only four dredges are being used as compared to up to 12 dredges used during the 2009 season.
Dredging will continue until late October when the state canal system closes for the winter.