Hudson dredge facility construction moving

Fort Edward, N.Y. (AP) – Hudson River dredging looks ready to
launch, finally.

Workers hired by General Electric Co. are finishing a canal-side
wharf for barges and a hangar-sized building to squeeze dry
polluted river mud. A rail yard is being built with nearly seven
miles of track for shipping out the waste.

After three decades of plans, lawsuits, negotiations, delays and
demonstrations, a rural site a few miles from the upper Hudson is
being prepared to treat tons of PCB-contaminated river mud
beginning next spring – “Phase 1” of a six-year operation that will
ultimately scrape away 490 acres of river bottom.

“Nothing like this has ever been attempted before,” GE spokesman
Mark Behan said over the rumble of construction at the sprawling
treatment site being built near the river. “The project is unique
in its scope and its size.”

GE plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls dumped wastewater
containing more than a million pounds of PCBs into the river before
they were banned in 1977. The gooey compounds once used as coolants
in electrical equipment are a suspected carcinogen and the narrow
run of the upper Hudson is considered so polluted that the fish are
deemed unsafe to eat.

New York first took steps to clean up the mess in the mid ’70s –
one report then said GE might have to spend thousands of dollars.
But local opposition, legal fights, studies and bureaucratic
wrangling have had the effect of dragging the case on a like raft
ride on a long, lazy river.

A 200-mile stretch of river down to New York City was listed as
a Superfund site in 1984. GE spent years arguing that dredging
would be disruptive and scientifically unsound. Dredging was a
particular sore point with former GE head Jack Welch, who snapped
at a pro-dredging nun at a 1998 shareholders’ meeting, “You owe it
to God to be on the side of truth here.”

GE dropped public opposition after the Environmental Protection
Agency signed a dredging order in 2002. Dredging could have started
in 2005, but legal issues and negotiations pushed back the start
date several times.

During the delays, officials picked a 110-acre dredge treatment
site along the Champlain Canal, a couple of miles from where the
canal connects with the Hudson. Shovels hit the ground here in
April 2007 and the “dewatering” site is taking shape. Behan said
the site employs 150 people, making it one of the larger
construction projects in upstate New York. Before a single scoop is
taken out of the river, the company has already spent $395
million.

Barring 11th-hour glitches, this site will run around the clock
next summer, six days a week. It will take sediment scooped up from
“hot spots” along a six-mile stretch of river south of Fort Edward,
where up to eight dredges will work simultaneously. After being
barged to the dewatering site, the sludge will be pressed dry and
shipped by train to a burial site in western Texas. The water will
be treated.

Neither the EPA nor GE will provide a cost estimate to complete
the project.

The scope of the looming project – more than 200 workers will be
involved – long ago raised fears among locals that their little
river towns will be ruined by the incessant rumble of trucks and
dredges. EPA spokeswoman Kristen Skopeck said they are trying hard
to minimize trauma. Trucks will detour around Fort Edward, the
“clamshell” dredges will leak as little as possible and the
operation will be quieter than a lawn mower to people on shore.

Not everyone here is assured. But five years after the EPA’s
dredging decision, there is a sense among both advocates and
opponents that it’s going to happen. It’s just a question of
when.

“I’m hoping it will happen,” said James Nyemchek as he ate wings
at a Fort Edward pizza place. “I just don’t think it will happen on
time.”

The EPA and GE say they see no impediments for a 2009 start.

GE has a lawsuit challenging the federal Superfund law, but
Behan said it will not affect the Hudson cleanup.

A separate legal challenge is expected from downriver towns that
draw drinking water from the Hudson, where there are worries about
PCBs kicked up by the dredging.

The EPA is providing a pipeline that will deliver water to the
towns from Troy when PCB levels exceed the federal safety standards
of 500 parts per trillion. Skopeck said the EPA is following the
law and protecting the public.

But Waterford supervisor Jack Lawler says the EPA will not
always be able to test the water quickly enough. And he doesn’t
want Waterford residents to drink water with any extra PCBs in it,
even if the EPA says it’s safe.

“These are the people who said the air at Ground Zero is safe to
breathe,” Lawler said. “I’m skeptical.”

Still, environmentalists are more concerned about what will
happen once dredging starts. The first phase of dredging from May
through October, when 400,000 tons of river bottom will be removed,
is essentially a test for Phase 2, which will take five years and
scrape up five times more material. After Phase 1, results will be
peer reviewed to measure the dredging’s effectiveness.

Based on the peer review, GE could decide not to perform Phase
2. But both the company and federal regulators say the work is
proceeding in good faith.

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