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EPA's dirty little secret

Dredging foes voice concern over ‘secret’ sites

By Kevin Hogan
The Record

ALBANY — February 6, 2001 --- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is once again under fire for using clandestine methods to locate potential hazardous waste-related cleanup sites in Hudson River communities.

A citizens group opposed to dredging obtained a copy of a previously unreleased document listing possible sites for a temporary facility to process PCB contamination removed from a 40-mile stretch of the upper Hudson River.  The Jan. 17, 2000 document, prepared by an EPA consulting firm, outlined locations near the river that would serve as transfer points for dredged river sediments.

At least 12 communities between Albany and Fort Edward were identified. The pros and cons of using each site were considered, including road and rail access.

Among the sites identified were: south of the Congress Street Bridge in Troy, Van Schaick Island in Cohoes, the abandoned Ford
Motor Co. plant in Green Island, at least two locations in Mechanicville, north the Mechanicville Country Club in the town of
Schaghticoke, the Port of Rensselaer, and land in the town of Waterford owned by General Electric.

The EPA, which is recommending to remove more than 2.6 million cubic yards of river sediment containing the highest concentrations of PCBs, expects it will need two 15-acre hazardous waste de-watering and processing facilities. The hazardous material would then be shipped out of the area to an approved landfill.

But it’s the EPA’s failure to disclose its list of more than a dozen Hudson River communities for the two de-watering plants that has the agency under attack once again.

Under the Freedom of Information Law, Citizen Environmentalists Against Sludge Encapsulation, known as CEASE, announced
Monday it uncovered the secret list.

“Keeping this document from the public makes a mockery of the public participation process,” said CEASE President Tim Havens. “EPA is asking people to comment on their proposal, yet they’re withholding critical information about the proposal. The whole public comment period is a farce.”

Politicians opposed to the EPA’s dredging plan also lashed out at the agency’s failure to disclose the list. “I’m shocked but not surprised by the EPA’s secretive behavior,” said state Assembly Minority Leader John Faso, R-Kinderhook. “How are residents supposed to decide if they support the dredging proposal if the EPA constantly distorts the truth and hides important information from them?”

Meanwhile, EPA officials insisted they were not trying to deceive or secretly locate a facility in any specific community. They said the list was only a preliminary look at possible sites for if, and when, the dredging project goes forward.

Last month, the EPA only mentioned two de-watering facilities on opposite ends of the cleanup project — one site likely in the town of Moreau and the other at the Port of Albany.

News that a PCB-treatment facility might come to their communities was not greeted by local officials on the latest list. “We would be highly disappointed if they chose Van Schaick Island for the sediment transfer station. In the interest of protecting the citizens of Cohoes, we obviously oppose this location,” said Cohoes Mayor John McDonald.  “We’re about to invest nearly $2 million into infrastructure on the island and we’re not doing it for a sediment transfer station, we’re doing it for our citizens,” McDonald said.

Green Island Mayor John J. McNulty vowed there would be “no dumping” projects in his community.

Tom Nardacci, city of Rensselaer council president, said he supports the EPA’s assessment and not GE’s “propaganda,” but will not take a stand one way or another on a possible de-watering plant cited in the Port of Rensselaer until more details are released.

“We need first to look at the impacts and what kinds of facilities they are talking about,” he said. “Of course we don’t want anything that will adversely affect our residents, but our goal, particularly on the upper Hudson, is to bring people back to the river, and to do that we have to make sure it’s clean.”

EPA spokeswoman Mary Helen Cervantes said there will be no determination on a de-watering plant site until the dredging project is given final approval and moves into the design phase.  “It could be that other locations are considered and none of these sites (currently on the list) would be chosen,” Cervantes said.

But dredging opponents distrust the EPA, especially after the agency admitted in 1997 it had secretly identified dozens of PCB dump sites along the lower Hudson River.

The EPA recently extended its public comment period to April 17. The next public hearing on its controversial cleanup plan will be tonight at 7 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel on Wolf Road in Colonie.

An ultimate decision of whether the dredging project will go forward is now slated to be released in August. CEASE’s release of the so-called secrete list on the eve of two public hearings in Colonie and Hudson Falls was a blatant attempt to create a public “frenzy,” according to Chris Ballantyne, the Sierra Club’s northeast regional director.

“This is absolutely a scare tactic ... to drum up opposition to the proposed cleanup,” said Ballantyne, who supports dredging.
“CEASE should stop serving as a front-group for the General Electric Corporation. Instead of creating fear and hysteria in the
upper river communities, they ought to work constructively to clean up this toxic problem,” he added.

GE legally discharged more than 1 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the river from the 1940s to 1977,
when the practice was outlawed.

Although GE had permits to discharge the industrial waste, environmental law require the company to pick up the cleanup bill,
which is expected to cost nearly $500 million.

Record reporters Jim Franco and Brian Butry contributed to this story.

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