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What you need to know for 01/23/2018

GE settles dredge lawsuit with river communities

GE settles dredge lawsuit with river communities

General Electric has reached a tentative settlement with three Saratoga County communities that cont
GE settles dredge lawsuit with river communities
Dredging of the Hudson River takes place in Fort Edward during the early stages of the project in 2011.

General Electric has reached a tentative settlement with three Saratoga County communities that contend their water supply costs rose because of the company’s Hudson River PCB dredging project.

The settlement would involve the village of Stillwater, the town of Stillwater and town of Waterford, which used to draw their water supplies from the river or from wells close to it. They contend in a federal lawsuit that they should be compensated for the costs of making other arrangements during the current dredging project.

“GE has reached a settlement in principle with three of the plaintiffs in the Saratoga County litigation — the village and town of Stillwater and the town of Waterford,” said GE spokesman Mark Behan.

No details of the settlement have been released, but the issue involves millions of dollars those communities have spent or will spend for water supply improvements prompted by PCB concerns.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Albany also includes the town of Halfmoon, but that community isn’t part of the tentative settlement. Behan said the agreement in principle with Stillwater and Waterford officials was reached about two weeks ago.

Donald Boyajian of Albany, attorney for the settling communities, wouldn’t discuss details, but confirmed that the necessary documents to settle the case are being drafted.

“The basic terms of settlement are agreed to,” he said Tuesday.

The communities filed their lawsuit in February 2009, the same year a project to dredge PCBs from the upper Hudson River began following decades of regulatory review, debate and negotiations.

GE is paying for the dredging, which is being done under the supervision of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

When the lawsuit was filed, there was concern the dredging would stir up PCBs buried in the river bottom and release them into the river, potentially affecting downstream communities that draw drinking water from the Hudson.

All of the communities suing GE have taken measures to switch their water supplies since then because of those concerns.

The village of Stillwater drew water from groundwater wells close to the river. GE initially paid for a $1 million filtration system to remove any PCBs. However, the village subsequently connected to the Saratoga County Water Authority system, which required running six miles of new water main at a cost of nearly $6 million.

The town of Stillwater, because it buys water from the village, also has incurred higher costs. Town Supervisor Ed Kinowski said he was hopeful a settlement would be finalized, but many parties are involved.

The Waterford Water Authority, which sells water to the town and village of Waterford, used to take water directly from the Hudson, but stopped when the dredging began.

It now gets its water from the city of Troy through a pipe paid for by GE, but the town has sought compensation for the added cost of its water purchases.

Halfmoon also has a water-treatment plant on the Hudson and has stopped using the plant because of the dredging. It is also buying its water from Troy. Halfmoon, however, has a different attorney and is not a party to the settlement in principle.

“We have our expert opinions with regard to damages,” said Halfmoon Supervisor Kevin Tollisen. “To my knowledge, there has been no discussion of settlement.”

The Saratoga County Water Authority contends in a separate lawsuit against GE that it incurred $27 million in additional costs when it built its countywide system because it had to draw from the Hudson north of Glens Falls to avoid PCB-contaminated areas. That lawsuit is pending.

Behan said GE has spent more than $1 billion cleaning up PCB contamination in the Hudson, with two seasons of dredging still ahead, as well as a year of restoration work.

The PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls, a suspected carcinogen — were legally discharged from GE plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward between 1946 and 1977. The EPA ordered the dredging in 2002 after more than a decade of debate and review, and after negotiations, GE agreed to pay for it in a settlement reached in 2005.

“GE has dealt diligently and responsibly with the PCB issue for nearly 50 years,” Behan said. “We have met all of our commitments to regulatory agencies.”

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