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More than 1,000 public comments on Hudson River dredging

More than 1,000 public comments on Hudson River dredging

State says more work needed; GE calls project successful
More than 1,000 public comments on Hudson River dredging
Dredging operations continue on the Hudson River in Mechanicville on June 19, 2015.
Photographer: Daily Gazette file photo

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has received more than 1,000 public comments on whether the dredging of PCBs from the upper Hudson River has been successful.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and a number of environmental groups are on one side, and General Electric on the other.

DEC and environmentalists who submitted comments prior to a Friday public comment deadline urged more work be done to remove polychlorinated biphenyls from the river. General Electric, however, said the project has been successful, and the river is cleaner than it was.

The $1.7 billion dredging project took place between 2009 and 2015 under an EPA order. The EPA is currently conducting a required five-year review of whether the original cleanup order — issued in 2002 — has succeeded.

EPA spokesman Elias Rodriguez said more than 1,000 comments were received, and a few more could be considered if they were mailed by Friday's deadline.

In perhaps its most forceful defense of the dredging work to date, GE said that additional dredging won't make a significant difference in the river's recovery time.

"GE is proud to have completed this unprecedented project that the EPA selected, New York state endorsed, and both oversaw, and GE is proud of the environmental improvements that have been achieved so far, the result of a very productive working relationship," GE project manager John G. Haggard wrote in a cover letter to the EPA.

The project funded by GE removed 275,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated soil from a 40-mile stretch of the river between Hudson Falls and Troy. The suspected carcinogen was discharged into the river from GE capacitor plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward prior to 1977.

The EPA's studies since dredging was completed have found it will be 55 years before PCB-contaminated fish taken from the river will be safe to eat on a regular basis — an amount of time groups like Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper believe is too long and could be shortened with additional work.

In comments, Scenic Hudson said its scientific consultant reviewed the sampling of PCB levels in fish, and questioned many of the EPA's assumptions about fish recovery. "EPA should delete its finding that the cleanup ‘will be protective’ even in more than five decades in the future as it is forecasting," Scenic Hudson Advocacy Director Hayley Carlock said. "The EPA should outline a plan for more cleanup in the upper Hudson and should direct General Electric to investigate how to characterize and clean up the problem in the lower Hudson."

The DEC has been doing its own riverbottom sediment testing on the river this summer, taking more than 1,600 samples, and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos called the recovery rate unacceptable.

"EPA appears desperate to come to a conclusion that simply is not supported by the current conditions of the Hudson River," Seggos wrote in a letter submitted to the EPA last week.

As part of the review process, the EPA held public comment meetings in June in Poughkeepsie, in July in Saratoga Springs and in August in New York City. The public comments will be considered during the review.

EPA project manager Gary Klawinski said at the Saratoga Springs meeting that EPA doesn't believe additional dredging would have a significant impact on the river's recovery time.

In one comment letter, Marla Hodge, owner of Mohawk Maiden Cruises in Schuylerville, said EPA needs to test and, if necessary, dredge the historic Champlain Canal, which she said is in need of navigational dredging, and represents lost tourism potential.

"The other day I made the comment to someone that, as much as I hated the dredgers when they were here — and I utterly despised them — if they need to come back to make sure the job is finished, I'll welcome them," Hodge wrote.

The canal wasn't subject to the 2002 EPA order, but testing that could lead to a separate order covering the canal and Hudson River floodplains is currently underway.

The EPA review could take up to three months.

"We plan to have a final five-year review report by the end of November, depending in part on the nature and complexity of the comments we received," Rodriguez said.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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