In the strongest statement to date about the need for additional dredging in the Hudson River, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday afternoon that he was ready to sue for a “full, timely cleanup” of the PCBs dumped into the river decades ago by General Electric Co.
Cuomo warned that the EPA should not decide that GE has completed the cleanup. GE has asked for a certificate of completion, and EPA has until Jan. 3 to make a decision.
EPA officials said they are taking the announcement and other comments about dredging into consideration before making a decision. At this point, they said they don’t think they’ll make a decision on time.
The answer should be no, according to the governor.
“The data is clear: The job is not done and the EPA cannot declare that this remediation is complete. If they do, New York will take any action necessary to hold them accountable for ensuring our waterways are protected and properly restored,” Cuomo said in a press release.
He specified that he wants more dredging, saying he would sue “to ensure the dredging is completed once and for all.”
The state did its own tests of the river this year to check the contamination levels, and found that some areas were three times as contaminated as they were expected to be after the dredging.
The most contaminated area is just south of Fort Edward, from the Thompson Island Dam though Lock 6 to the Northumberland Dam, in Washington County.
Fort Edward Supervisor Mitch Suprenant said Cuomo’s statement convinced him that GE should do more dredging to remove the PCBs.
“They should do it,” he said. “I’m going out of office, so I can say that.”
Suprenant is retiring at the end of the year.
He added that he hadn’t expected Cuomo to go so far to get more dredging.
“I’m very surprised that he’s taken such a strong stance, but there must be strong evidence,” he said.
In Schuylerville, which is just south of the most contaminated area, Mayor Dan Carpenter also wants more dredging.
“I am pleased to hear that Gov. Cuomo is ready to take action to protect the Hudson River and the communities that run along it,” he said.
He was very interested in the state’s sampling of the original canal segment that runs through Schuylerville and often overflows onto the nearby ballfields.
EPA didn’t include the canal as part of the dredging project, which Carpenter called a “huge mistake.”
“The fact that the DEC stepped in and proved a month ago that there are elevated levels of PCBs (in the canal) means that EPA did not do its job,” Carpenter said. “If the original canal, which we now know has elevated levels of PCBs, is not dealt with now, and it is left to the review of the floodplains as a ‘standing water area,’ the village and our children may not see a resolution for a decade.”
But not everyone welcomes more dredging.
Julie Wilson, who lived next to the 24-hour-a-day PCB sediment dewatering plant in Fort Edward, was stunned to hear about Cuomo’s announcement.
“Oh, God. Oh, no,” she said. “What is wrong with their heads? They worked so hard and the outcome was not worth the money it cost.”
Wilson was deeply unhappy with the noise, dust and other problems that came with the dredging plant. But she also feels that the results — with higher-than-expected contamination and the news that fish won’t recover for 55 years or more — prove that the dredging had no useful effect.
“I believe GE and the team that worked on that project were sincere,” she said. “Obviously, there is not any technology available today, any method, for a successful dredge of a moving river.”
However, officials from GE, the state Department of Environmenatal Conservation and EPA all agree that PCB contamination in the fish has lessened since the dredging. Dredging also reduced contamination in water and sediment.
“The EPA’s latest report shows PCBs have already declined by more than 70 percent,” said Mark Behan of Behan Communications, which was hired to speak for GE on this issue and issued a statement last month after DEC demanded more dredging. “EPA found the dredging remedy is functioning as intended and will protect human health and the environment. EPA is not recommending additional dredging.”
But it has not reduced PCB contamination enough, DEC officials argued when they began talking about more dredging a year ago.
“The Hudson River is a critical economic engine and environmental treasure and New York will not allow PCB contamination to continue wreaking havoc on this vital resource,” he said. “If the EPA declares mission accomplished, we will sue to ensure New York sees the full, timely cleanup and restoration of the Hudson River that was promised.”