Dredging Study: No Need To Expand

Dec 30, 2013

Results of a study requested by New York state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and released late Friday show no need for General Electric to voluntarily expand dredging that's already under way in a portion of the upper Hudson River contaminated with PCBs.

GE Spokesman Mark Behan
Credit WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

Efforts to expand dredging on the Hudson River to include acreage outside the project's initial scope seem to have hit a brick wall.  The end of the 2013 dredging season concluded November 6th, rendering the project nearly three-quarters complete. Spokesman Mark Behan notes that Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE was asked by the New York state comptroller's office to evaluate whether doing additional dredging now might reduce any future liabilities on the Hudson.  "The company conducted an exhaustive legal and scientific analysis. The conclusion is "no." GE is implementing the dredging project that the environmental protection agency selected for the Hudson. And the EPA has said repeatedly that that project protects public health and the environment and is meeting the agency's cleanup goals. And it has said it does not expect to expand the dredging project. In fact, EPA specifically rejected larger dredging projects when selecting this one. So GE believes its remedial liability for the Hudson will be fully resolved when the current dredging project is completed in 2016."

GE's scientific and legal analysis characterized local wildlife in the area to be "robust and thriving," with no credible data showing any adverse ecological effect. Concern about the company getting hit with future liabilities for environmental damage is regarded as speculative. Again, Mark Behan:   "Well some history and context are important here. GE is implementing one of the largest and most logistically-challenging environmental dredging projects ever undertaken. EPA selected this particular project after a 12-year study. And in selecting this project, EPA specifically rejected larger dredging projects because it said any benefits they might bring were outweighed by risks to the river environment and disruptions to local communities. And EPA now has reviewed its decision on multiple occasions and as recently as last year concluded again that the current dredging project as it's being currently performed is meeting all of the agency's clean-up goals. We agree. We don't believe any expansion of this already massive project is warranted."

The study is a setback for Environmentalists who have called for expanded dredging of contaminated sections outside the established Superfund cleanup site north of Albany. Riverkeeper reacted with a call-to-arms statement, according to staff attorney Abigail Jones.   "GE is ducking the issue and delaying the inevitable day of reckoning on this part of its liability. We had hoped they were done with such tactics, but so be it and on to the next round of the fight."

So far, there is no explanation as to what that next round might entail. According to published reports:  GE and EPA received 54 complaints from the public related to the project in 2013, roughly half of which were noise-related.  Mark Behan points out that dredging  has been under way now for four seasons and 70 per cent of the EPA-targeted sediment has been removed. "...at a cost of more than a billion dollars. Two more seasons of dredging remain ahead of us, 2014 and 2015 with a third season of habitat reconstruction in 2016."

In May 2014, dredging is expected to resume south of the village of Schuylerville, depending on the weather and spring flood conditions.