The state Canal Corp. is making plans for the first navigation dredging in more than 30 years on the section of the Hudson River north of Waterford — a project expected to be costly because of PCB contamination.
A Canal Corp. official said sediment it removes will still have to be dealt with as PCB-contaminated, despite the federally supervised PCB dredging now being done by General Electric, and that will significantly increase the cost.
“We haven’t done this for 30 years because of the cost, and that issue is still there,” said Joseph Moloughney, the Canal Corp.’s director of environmental affairs. “As funding becomes available, we’ll work on this.”
He said the entire river south of Fort Edward is assumed to be contaminated with at least one part-per-million of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, that were discharged from a GE plant in Fort Edward decades ago. The $1 billion Environmental Protection Agency-funded GE dredging project is removing “hot spots” between Fort Edward and Troy, but not cleaning the entire river.
“There’s a general baseline level of contamination that is assumed to exist throughout the river,” Moloughney told a meeting of the Hudson River Dredging Community Advisory Group on Thursday at Saratoga Spa State Park.
Because dredging hasn’t been done since before 1980, the Canal Corp. estimates 600,000 cubic yards of accumulated sediment that impedes marine navigation needs to be dredged, even after GE’s project is done.
Under the standard used by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, a one part-per-million PCB concentration in river-bottom sediments would require the Canal Corp. to give the sediment special handling and bury it in a sealed landfill. Moloughney said taking the necessary measures could raise the cost of navigational dredging to $200 to $300 per cubic yard, versus $10 to $20 per cubic yard for standard dredging.
By one rough calculation offered at the meeting, that means navigational dredging of the Hudson could cost the Canal Corp. about $120 million. No source of funding has been identified.
“There’s a lot of PCBs that are going to be left in the river that you will still have to deal with,” said Julie Stokes, who represents the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce on the advisory group.
Local officials and business leaders generally want to see the navigational dredging take place, in the hope it will encourage more recreational use of the Champlain Canal, which runs between Waterford and Lake Champlain.
Moloughney said the Canal Corp. has recently taken a first step, applying to the Army Corps of Engineers for a navigational dredging permit, which he expects will be granted.
“We are looking to the future,” he said.
Also at the meeting, GE representatives said dredging for the 2013 season will start in May. This is the fourth year of what’s expected to be a 10-year remediation project, working its way south from Fort Edward.
This year’s work will start at West Griffin Island and work south toward Schuylerville, parallel to West River Road in Northumberland. A new fill storage area will be established by GE near Lock 5, just north of Schuylerville.