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Mink

A mink hunts near water. The Hudson River Trustees, a group conducting the Natural Resource Damage Assessment for the Hudson River, have studied mink populations and believe PCBs are causing their decline.

The EPA on Thursday issued General Electric Co. the certificate ending dredging in the Upper Hudson River for now, but some are wondering what that could mean for possible claims related to damages to natural resources from the project.

It expects another eight or so years of fish tissue data will be collected before it makes a determination on whether PCB levels have lowered enough to call the dredging a success.

Separate from the EPA, a group of trustees have been investigating what damages GE’s nearly three decades of disposing 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river did to the area’s land, water, wildlife, air and other natural resources.

The trustees include the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Once they complete the assessment, the trustees will then quantify the damages and could seek monetary compensation to affected communities, or restoration projects.

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, was concerned that the EPA’s decision Thursday could impact that assessment.

“My concern moving forward is that the EPA is telling us that our river is clean enough to issue a Certificate of Completion, but not clean enough for our community to receive Federal NRDA (Natural Resource Damage Assessment) funds,” Woerner wrote in a news release.

Mary Mears, public affairs director for EPA’s Region 2, said the certificate “does not in any way affect the ability or authority of the Natural Resource Trustees to seek Natural Resource Damages.”

“EPA,” Mears continued, “has no role in any such action.”

Mears continued to highlight EPA’s stance on the Superfund law, that the issuance of “this certification did not depend upon, nor imply, a finding or determination that the river is ‘clean’ or ‘clean enough.’”

She said it was “an acknowledgement that the dredging and associated construction work” that GE was required to do “was properly carried out.”

Mark Behan, president of Behan Communications and spokesman for GE, said the trustees have not reached a finding on Hudson River damages. He, too, said the process is separate from the certificate of completion.

The federal Hudson River Trustees said Friday they are still reviewing EPA’s Thursday announcement, but they emailed to The Post-Star NOAA’s and the Department of Interior’s past comments to the EPA from 2017.

Trustees want more Hudson River cleanup

Those comments were on the draft remedial action completion report, where they called for more cleanup.

Kathryn Jahn, Hudson River case manager for the Interior Department, wrote on Dec. 13, 2017, that the trustees “continue to be concerned about the significant PCB contamination left in the Hudson River, the time expected for the Hudson River ecosystem to recover from that contamination and the adverse impact of that contamination on wildlife, natural resources and the public that uses these resources.” She continued that “additional PCB removal and robust habitat reconstruction” would accelerate the river’s recovery.

Lisa Rosman, of NOAA, wrote on Nov. 27, 2017, that NOAA recommends before EPA approves and finalizes the remedial action report, which includes the Certificate of Completion GE was given Thursday, “that EPA demonstrate that the remedial action is protective of human health and the environment.”

DEC and other state officials have been clear that they disagree with EPA’s stance that the Certificate of Completion is separate from whether the remediation worked or not. The state plans to sue the EPA on this count.

But DEC said Friday that EPA’s decision does not change the trustees’ work completing the assessment.

“The trustees are in the process of finalizing this assessment, which is a necessary step prior to bringing any legal action,” the agency said in an email.

Margaret Byrne, assessment and restoration manager speaking for both NOAA and the Department of the Interior,also said the EPA’s decision did not impact the assessment.

“The Trustees are working diligently to complete the injury determination phase of their assessment and moving toward quantifying impacts and determining damages,” Byrne wrote in an email. “Natural resource impacts have occurred for decades, and may span the next half century or more.”

The trustees have completed a number of studies as part of the assessment, including how PCBs have impacted mink and various bird species. More recently the trustees are looking at how dredging impacted freshwater mussel communities in the Hudson River.

Mussel beds and habitat were destroyed during the dredging process, and were not replaced as part of the Superfund site remedy, according to a Hudson River Trustees fact sheet. Researchers are in the process of collecting samples and surveying “to inform injury determination and quantification, spatial/temporal recovery of impacted mussel beds and the re-establishment of mussel beds injured by the remedial action on the Hudson River.”

For updates on the assessment, go to fws.gov/northeast/ecologicalservices/hudson.html.

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Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or gcraig@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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