Earlier this week, a bold-type new sign went up at the kayak launch in Hudson Crossing Park, warning the public that the soil at the launch is contaminated with PCBs.
The dredging of PCBs from the Hudson River itself was completed there last year, but dredging the river bottom didn’t address low-level contamination on the shore and beyond.
Local officials, meanwhile, are concerned that a remnant of the old Champlain Canal also remains contaminated and could flood and contaminate village wells.
Together, they illustrate that some PCBs remain in the upper Hudson landscape despite the decade-long, $1 billion cleanup effort being paid for by General Electric.
The kayak launch lies in the river’s western flood plain, where the Hudson’s periodic flooding has deposited contaminated soil. It could be a problem throughout the dredging area, and local officials want it addressed.
“Further flood-plain testing needs to be done to ensure economic development and healthy and safe communities,” said Mechanicville Supervisor Tom Richardson, chairman of the Historic Hudson-Hoosic Partnership.
The partnership is a regional local-state collaboration to promote tourism and other economic activities in the small communities that line the river from Waterford north to Hudson Falls.
“Future [development] projects all depend on the removal of PCB contamination from the flood plain,” Richardson said.
The flood plains have not been part of the cleanup, though discussions between GE and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are ongoing.
At a meeting Thursday of the project’s Community Advisory Group in Schuylerville, local officials also outlined their concerns that future flooding could breach the old canal and contaminate Schuylerville’s wells, which also serve the village of Victory. The communities have no secondary water source.
The wells lie downgrade from a milelong section of the 19th century canal between Lock 5 and Fish Creek. Because of how the river drops between Northumberland and Schuylerville, officials said it’s possible Hudson floodwater could enter the canal at Lock 5, and spill out at the well field. The canal is known to have PCBs in its sediment. It has not been dredged.
“We in Schuylerville, Victory and the town of Saratoga have a problem,” said Saratoga Town Supervisor Tom Wood. “This is an important issue, and it needs to be addressed before the dewatering plant is decommissioned.”
The sludge dewatering plant in Fort Edward could close as soon as next year, when dredging along the 40 miles of river is likely to finish.
The project — the biggest of its kind ever undertaken — is removing 1.3 million pounds of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, discharged into the Hudson between 1946 and 1977 from GE capacitor plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls.
Gary J. Klawinski, the EPA’s acting project director, said the contamination at the kayak launch was found during testing this spring, which he said was done routinely because the launch was a new use. It isn’t clear whether there had been prior testing, but the site did flood this spring.
Contamination above 10 parts per million is enough to warrant a warning to the public, he said, and the finding wasn’t really a surprise.
“We have a pretty good understanding of where PCBs are in the flood plain,” Klawinski said.
He said the idea of the Champlain Canal breaching hadn’t been looked at before, but the EPA will discuss it with GE officials. The canal has silted in over the years, lessening its capacity to handle large volumes of water.
GE spokeswoman Joan Gerhardt said the company is waiting to learn more through EPA’s investigation.
“In terms of the flood plain, we’ve been talking with the EPA since 2008,” she said.
The dredging, which began at Fort Edward in 2009 and moved southward, is taking place between Schuylerville and the village of Stillwater this year.
It will go as far south as Troy, but Klawinski said next year should see the last of the dredging.
Local officials said that’s why now is the time to push for action on flood-plain issues and possible navigational dredging, before the dewatering plant is shut down.
“This is the time that EPA and GE are really beginning to contemplate flood-plain testing,” said Julia Stokes, Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce representative on the advisory board.