FORT EDWARD -- Hudson River dredging is on track to exceed this year’s goal, even as high river flows caused delays recently and the project concentrates largely on a heavily contaminated area of the river.
“We’ve got some of the largest deposits of hot material we’re going to see on the river,” said Dave King, the Environmental Protection Agency’s coordinator for the dredging project, at a community advisory group meeting Thursday. “This is our toughest spot. We always knew it would be.”
Rain earlier this month made for high river flows, which contributed to some air quality standard “exceedances.” Dredging has been ongoing in an area of the river known as “hot spot 28,” a highly contaminated area of the river just south of Champlain Canal Lock 6.
“It was sort of a perfect storm of getting those numbers up, but flows are coming down,” King said.
The Hudson River dredging project is a multiyear, multifaceted endeavor that extends through a 40-mile section of river from Fort Edward to Troy.
General Electric dumped polychlorinated biphenyls into the river for years from its plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward before the substances were deemed hazardous in the 1970s. General Electric is conducting the dredging project under the oversight of the EPA; the community advisory group meets quarterly to discuss the project’s progress and health and environmental issues.
Members of the group represent a variety of interests associated with the river, including environmental groups and geographical areas. Group members voiced concern about PCB levels in both the upper and lower parts of the river, and how dredging in highly contaminated areas could affect people along the river’s length.
Elevated PCB levels “are not a good indication of the low load we hoped to see in the lower Hudson,” CAG member Manna Jo Greene said.
Levels are beginning to trend down now, EPA officials said.
To keep levels within the standards the EPA set for the project, dredges are spread in both highly concentrated areas and areas with lower concentrations of PCBs. Areas with higher concentrations are covered with water, and barges filled with more contaminated sediment are tracked and prioritized for transporting, unloading and processing.
The 2013 dredging season began in late April, and is planned to extend through the fall, depending on weather.
The goal for the season, as it has been in past years, is to dredge 350,000 cubic yards of sediment from the river, although King said Thursday he expected the project to surpass 400,000 cubic yards this year.
Dredging this year, the third year of the project’s second phase, is different than in past years when dredging was generally taking place from one side of the river to its opposite bank.
Dredging has been ongoing in shallower areas of the river this year, and not necessarily bank to bank. As of Saturday, 55 acres and 165,000 cubic yards of sediment had been dredged, nearing the halfway point to the annual goal less than two months into the season.
The project continues once the river is dredged — workers backfill the dredged areas with fresh sediment as part of a lengthy process of restoring the habitat. Surveys of the river bed are taken prior to dredging, and once it’s over, an attempt is made to re-create the depth and configuration of the river bottom.
Local plants are then put into the fresh sediment, and monitoring and maintenance takes place, along with replanting and removal of invasive plants, if necessary, said Gary Klawinski of the EPA.
While the dredging project itself has passed the halfway mark, habitat reconstruction is in its infancy. This year, project officials plan to put in 70,000 plants, while 18,000 have gone in so far. In some cases, plants take root on the first try, while in other areas of the river, planting is more difficult, Klawinski said.
“We’re more than halfway through dredging, but we’re certainly well behind that on habitat,” Klawinski said. “Things need to be rebuilt and stabilized before we take that next step.”