SCHUYLERVILLE — Local officials and economic developers are worried about what lurks in the Old Champlain Canal, but they don’t want state and federal agencies to take years to clean it up.
Gary Klawinski, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Hudson River Field Office, said the canal has detectable levels of PCBs, which are industrial chemicals that can cause adverse health effects.
General Electric Co. dumped PCBs into the Hudson River in the 1970s, polluting the river and floodplains and leading to a major cleanup and monitoring program for the 200-mile superfund site.
The site has a community advisory group made up of local stakeholders, and it met Thursday afternoon at the Saratoga Town Hall to get project updates, including one about the Old Champlain Canal.
Klawinski said he’s not sure what kind of PCBs are there, but once the EPA has more information, it plans to work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Health and community leaders on plans to dredge the canal.
Julie Stokes, an advisory group member representing the Schuylerville Area Chamber of Commerce, expressed her frustration at how long some of the bureaucratic measures have taken during the superfund process and called on the state and federal government to take “emergency action” to save the village.
“If you wait five to seven years to let this happen, then you are delaying the economic development of this village,” she said.
Mayor Dan Carpenter said the canal used to be a recreational hub where small watercraft would travel through in the summer, and skating and hockey took place in the winter. The village is working to bring that back, and already has the Empire State Trail system running along it on the towpath. The village expects the trail to be completed next year.
The Champlain Canal Region Gateway Visitors’ Center on Ferry Street is nearing completion, too, Stokes added. She hopes it will open its doors in 2020.
The canal is filled with so much sediment, however, it is mostly stagnant, and it’s not easily navigable for motor boats let alone kayaks and canoes. It stinks in the summer, Stokes added. She and Carpenter worry that the canal could hinder all the progress the community has made and continues to make.
“To continue to ignore it because we don’t know what is in it, is keeping us from reaching our full economic development potential,” Carpenter said. “... The dredging of the canal itself is going to be a major undertaking.”
Dredging would not only get the PCBs removed, it would help with the canal flow and give boats more water to navigate.
Kalea Ellis, a Schuylerville High School student and advisory group member representing the next generation, spoke up in favor of a quicker timeline for dredging.
“We want to expand as a community, and that’s why I think it has to happen now,” she said.