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Trustees want more Hudson River cleanup

Another group is coming after GE to clean up the Hudson River.

The Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees have warned for years they might demand more than what GE agreed to do in its agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Wednesday, they entered the fray with a report, cataloging the staggeringly high levels of PCBs still in the river. It is the first step in a legal process that could force GE to do more dredging.

In the Fort Edward area, PCBs are more than 1,000 times higher than the level at which it would be safe to eat fish again. In the Schuylerville and Saratoga area, PCBs are more than 10,000 times higher than the safe level, according to the report.

That’s as of 2014, but the trustees are continuing to track water samples and expect the damage to continue. EPA officials said they have not seen a significant drop in PCB amounts in the last three years, although they see indications that levels are decreasing slowly. They anticipate it will take more than 55 years before fish are safe to eat again.

Even with a slight decrease in PCBs, the surface water is tremendously unsafe, the trustees said. It’s dangerous for everyone: the animals that live in or near the river and the people who eat the fish from the river.

“The best way to make these injuries to not happen anymore is to reduce the amount of PCBs in the river,” said Margaret Byrne, Hudson River assessment and restoration manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The trustees want additional PCB removal and other actions, which could include increasing the amount of fish in the river and rebuilding habitats. The trustees have been investigating the death rate of mink kits; PCB levels in fish, frogs and other creatures; and similar impacts for many years.

But Wednesday’s report is different. In that report, they legally assert that natural resources were injured by PCB contamination.

Natural resource trustees must first document damage and then assert that an injury has been made. They then can determine the amount of restoration needed and take that to whomever is blamed for the damage. At that point, there can be a quick settlement — or a lengthy legal fight.

“Most natural resource damage cases have been resolved through a negotiated settlement,” Byrne said. “This has yet to be resolved.”

In a press release with the report, the trustees were careful not to use the word dredging. They want “additional PCB removal,” they said. But Byrne acknowledged dredging is the best known way to remove PCBs.

The report itself focused on the sheer amount of PCBs still in the surface water of the river.

The data collected “demonstrates that, of the 8,667 samples that contained PCBs at detectable concentrations, all exhibited PCB concentrations that exceed one or more guidance criteria and regulatory standards. Even the lowest concentrations measured are many orders of magnitude greater” than safe water levels, the report said.

GE has defended its work in the dredging as recently as Monday.

“As EPA confirmed in a report last May, and as the data clearly and unequivocally demonstrate, the Hudson River dredging project is achieving EPA’s goals of protecting public health and the environment,” said Mark Behan of Behan Communications, which was hired by GE to handle media coverage related to the PCB cleanup.

Behan said that PCB levels had declined “sharply as expected,” although DEC officials have said the results show the river will not recover after the dredging as quickly as had been anticipated.

When DEC tested the river last year, it 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 through Lock 6 to the Northumberland Dam in Washington County.

Behan also said the dredging “removed the vast majority of PCBs in the Upper Hudson,” which is also questioned by others. Some members of the Community Action Group, which has met regularly to get reports from EPA on the work, said GE left “toxic doughnuts” during the dredging by removing only some of the PCBs.

The dredging plan was supposed to remove 64 percent of the PCBs in river Section 2, which is bounded by Fort Miller dam and the Northumberland dam at Route 4. In the end, only 36 percent of the PCBs were removed there.

EPA Project Manager Gary Klawinski defended the work, saying that more PCBs were removed than expected in the other two river sections. In Section 1, 79 percent was to be removed, but dredging actually removed 81 percent of the PCBs. In Section 3, 4.4 percent of the PCBs were to be removed but dredging removed 4.9 percent.

Behan said that, overall, GE removed nearly 80 percent of the PCBs, which resulted in a 73 percent drop in PCB contamination levels in the water.

“GE has met or exceeded all of its obligations on the Hudson River, removed twice the volume of PCBs that EPA anticipated and invested $1.7 billion in what EPA called a ‘historic achievement,’” he said.

Sheriff: I don't support needle exchange site

HUDSON FALLS — Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said Wednesday that neither he nor his agency supports a planned hypodermic needle exchange program at a proposed site on Main Street in Hudson Falls, saying the organization seems to have used “deceptive” tactics to seek local sheriffs’ approval.

Sheriff Jeff Murphy said he had endorsed the concept of a needle exchange program in 2016, when the Albany-based Alliance for Positive Health was seeking local support for it. But he said police were being told at that point that it would be located at Glens Falls Hospital.

He said he notified the Alliance for Positive Health on Wednesday that he was rescinding that prior support in light of the location that was chosen.

Murphy said that he approved of needle exchange as a means to address the public health threat of improperly discarded used needles that residents of the region find in store bathrooms, parks and other public places, left behind by heroin users. Use of dirty needles by intravenous drug users and failure to dispose of them safely can spread deadly blood-borne illnesses.

Murphy said a location in Hudson Falls was never discussed with him and that alliance representative he met with in 2016 is no longer with the organization.

“At that point they told us it was going to be at Glens Falls Hospital, but that location was turned down,” Murphy said. “That (124 Main St.) is absolutely not the right location for it.”

Significant backlash to the site has emerged in recent days, as it is near a school and Juckett Park, and village officials have questioned the legality of it. A public hearing on the issue has been set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, at the former Washington County Courthouse on Main Street in Hudson Falls.

A representative of the alliance told The Post-Star this week that the sheriff’s offices in Washington and Warren counties had endorsed the syringe exchange program that would locate a first-of-its-kind program in the region, which prompted Murphy and Warren County Sheriff Bud York to clarify their offices’ positions.

That alliance representative, executive director William Faragon, could not be immediately reached Wednesday morning.

“They were supposed to do it through the hospital and it didn’t work out,” York said. “We didn’t endorse the location they are talking about.”

Warren County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Stockdale said his office would not take a position on a location in another county, and would not okay something without knowledge that all stakeholders were informed and on board.

“We endorsed the concept, not anything else,” he said.

Murphy said he would favor a mobile exchange or collection program, which could serve multiple parts of Warren and Washington counties but not create as much of an impact for neighbors.

“It is a public safety issue, we get a lot of calls from people who find needles,” he said. “But I have concerns about the deceptive way this has been presented.”

Callie Ginter / Callie Ginter, 

A syringe exchange program affiliated with the Alliance for Positive Health is proposing to move an office to 124 Main St., Hudson Falls seen here on Tuesday. Through needle exchange programs, drug users can swap dirty needles for clean ones. Ideally, needle exchanges reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

Stefanik applauds State of Union message

In a State of the Union address touching on issues of immigration, tax reform, jobs and the opioid epidemic, President Donald Trump on Tuesday night stopped speaking several times to recognize the heroic acts of several Americans.

Those were gestures that Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said humanized the president’s speech by putting a face on the issues he was talking about.

“When the North Korean held up his crutches, it was a pinch-yourself moment here in the chamber,” said the congresswoman in an interview late Tuesday night, referring to a North Korean man who now lives in Seoul and rescues other defectors, despite losing both limbs in 1996.

“And the soldier who saved the life of his fellow soldier, these are everyday Americans. … That was a real strength tonight.”

While some cite inaccuracies and misstatements related to the president’s remarks about the economy, tax cuts, jobs, coal and immigration, both Democrats and Republicans said they support the individuals who were recognized throughout the hour-and-20-minute address.

“The woman from the Coast Guard who saved 40 lives, she needs to be honored,” said Democrat Patrick Nelson, NY-21 congressional candidate from Stillwater, in an interview on Wednesday morning. “That is not a partisan issue.”

Stefanik said the president delivered a “positive and optimistic message to the American people.”

“I was pleasantly surprised that he focused on prescription drugs and infrastructure,” Stefanik said. “We desperately need infrastructure (improvements), and while he did not directly mention broadband, I will make sure it is part of the discussion for the people of NY-21.”

But not everyone shared Stefanik’s view.

“Last night we heard from an unpredictable president who says one thing and does another,” said Democratic NY-21 congressional candidate Tedra Cobb of Canton. “We heard another round of grand promises and proposals from a leadership whose actual policies hinder real solutions to complex problems. President Trump paid lip service to bipartisanship and advocated for wrong-headed policies like punitive approaches to the opioid crisis and immigration reform, while ignoring the challenges of climate change and making health care accessible to all.”

Emily Martz, NY-21 Democratic congressional candidate from Saranac Lake, said the president’s support of veterans and the military was a welcomed message for the North Country.

Nonetheless, Martz said what the president did not discuss was most striking and did not bode well for the region’s economy and job growth, pointing to Trump’s refocusing the nation toward fossil fuels.

“We have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” Trump said early in his address. “We are now an exporter of energy to the world.”

But energy experts say that 17 coal mines are slated to close and jobs in the coal industry are declining. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2016 Annual Coal Report, coal jobs nationally were down by 21 percent, with Kentucky and Alabama down over 30 percent.

“We need jobs, and rather than favoring fossil fuels, we need the government to prioritize job growth in clean and renewable energy,” Martz said.

Additionally, Nelson said that coal cannot compete with natural gas, solar and wind.

While Stefanik said the president “presented innovative ideas on prescription drug costs,” NY-21 Democratic congressional candidate Don Boyajian of Cambridge said the president’s remarks lacked detailed discussion about health care.

“He spent the past year trying to take away health care and little was discussed,” he said on Wednesday afternoon. “We need to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.”

Regarding immigration, the president talked about the four pillars of his new immigration plan: The first offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents; the second secures the border with the hiring of more ICE agents; the third ends the visa lottery; and the fourth ends what the president called “chain migration.”

Still, Martz said the president’s “anti-immigration” policies are damaging for the North Country and the entire country.

“Our region is losing population and we depend upon immigrant labor for farming. ... Rather than inflammatory rhetoric, we need to focus on creating a common sense, safe and secure immigration system that allows immigration based both on family and employment,” said Martz. “Among all the policy talk and rhetoric, the priority I would have really liked to have seen is the one that’s about valuing all people equally and making sure everyone has the chance to succeed. That is truly what should be at the heart of our region and our nation.”


Bon-Ton closing 42 stores, including at Aviation Mall

QUEENSBURY — Aviation Mall is losing Bon-Ton as part of the department store chain’s reorganization.

Bon-Ton announced Wednesday it is closing 42 stores nationwide.

In New York state, it is also closing stores at Salmon Run Mall in Watertown and St. Lawrence Center in Massena.

The company said it expects to also close five more stores in the U.S. this year.

There is a Bon-Ton at the Wilton Mall, which so far has remained off the closure list.

At Aviation Mall, Bon-Ton will begin a store closing sale on Thursday, company officials said. The sale will run for 10 to 12 weeks. Employees at the store will be able to interview for positions at other locations, but layoffs are expected, company officials said.

Bon-Ton is one of the large anchors at the mall, at 80,000 square feet. It’s near Regal Cinemas, in what mall General Manager James Griffith has called the side of the mall that needs more popular stores.

In December, he said he would like to have a large space that he could aggressively market to a company that would draw in many customers.

“If we can get something down in this end of the mall that’s a high-touch, this will take off. It only takes one,” he said in December.

He’s eager to get an electronics store like Best Buy, or a bookstore.

“We’re actively looking for both,” he said in January, prior to the Bon-Ton announcement. “We’ve utilized anchors as a way to increase foot traffic. In-line stores are co-dependent on different anchors.”

Bon-Ton has been at the mall since 1999.

Griffith on Wednesday called the closing “unfortunate” because the store had been a mainstay at the mall for so long.

“When stores are in a community that long, they become rooted in people’s memories,” he said. “Though unfortunate, the space is not unfamiliar with loss. Caldor’s shuttered the space in 1998, allowing Bon-Ton to enter the market.”

He noted that Bon-Ton has its own entrance and “a lot of marketable exterior frontage.”

“There is no immediate plans for the space, but it definitely opens up opportunities for Aviation to reinvent the space once again,” he said.