River Clean Up Ok'ed; Alcoa Project A Go

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The federal government has decided to go with a $243 million clean-up plan of the Grasse River in Massena, according to a statement late Thursday from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

That decision clears the last obstacle to Alcoa proceeding with modernizing the Massena East plant, preserving at least 900 jobs in Massena.

The tribe was told of the federal Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) plans in a telephone call Thursday, according to the tribe's statement. The EPA is expected to make the decision official Friday.

The Mohawks are not happy.

“I'm disappointed that the EPA would choose such a poor remedy that isn't a permanent solution," tribal chief Ron LaFrance said in the statement.

"Their mission has been compromised so industrial pollution perpetrators can continue to violate the environment with little or no conscience.

"What's even sadder is that jobs won out over the health of the people; jobs that never benefited our community anyway.”

The $243 million clean-up is favorable to Alcoa, and involves dredging and capping part of the Grasse River, where the company dumped industrial waste for decades. The Mohawks say the clean-up would leave 93 percent of the pollution in place.

The EPA has considered other alternatives that would cost far more, and officials from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer on down have warned that if the clean up is too expensive, Alcoa might not proceed with the modernization of the Massena east plant, a project that's expected to cost $600 million.

Last weekend, Alcoa - to great fanfare - publicly committed to the first $42 million of the $600 million expense. The one lingering detail, everyone said, was a decision from the EPA.

Thursday night, Schumer called the EPA's decision "wonderful news for the North Country on two fronts: it will clean up the Grasse River and allow Alcoa the flexibility and certainty it needs to retain over 900 jobs and expand its operations at the East Plant, which we believe will inevitably create even more jobs.

“The $243 million plan will also be a shot in the arm for the environment and its economy, that will put many people to work in the cleanup efforts,” Schumer said in a statement.

On the other hand, said Mohawk tribal chief Paul Thompson,“That is still our land and the EPA should be using our standards for clean-up, not what the Alcoa scientists say should be done."

The Tribal Council supports "Remedial Option Number 10," which called for dredging of the river bottom to completely remove the contaminants.

“We will continue to monitor the remedy and we ask EPA to require a perpetual monitoring and maintenance fund be set up just for the Grasse River remedy,” said Randy Hart, Tribal Chief. “If the remedy is not effective Alcoa must go back into the river and fix it.”

The complete statement from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that they will release their Record of Decision (ROD) on Friday April 5, 2013 for the Grasse River cleanup. During a conference call on Thursday April 4, 2013, they indicated to tribal officials that they would be implementing Remedial Option number six which calls for a combination of dredging and capping.

This would leave 93 percent of the contaminants in place. The estimated cost of this clean-up would be approximately $243 million. Alcoa will be responsible for bearing this cost.

Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance expressed his disappointment with the decision, “I'm disappointed that the EPA would choose such a poor remedy that isn't a permanent solution. Their mission has been compromised so industrial pollution perpetrators can continue to violate the environment with little or no conscience. What's even sadder is that jobs won out over the health of the people; jobs that never benefited our community anyway.”

Beginning in the 1950s, Alcoa and Reynolds Metals Corporation discharged pollutants into the river system ultimately contaminating portions of the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries.  The discharge of PCBs is one of the chief concerns because they are so persistent, are cancer-causing and take a very long time to break down in the environment.

The PCBs have found their way into the food chain by infiltrating river sediments.  They then contaminate smaller organisms which are eaten by larger and larger predators, and eventually are consumed by humans. Research has shown that PCBs are then found in human tissue and breast milk which is then passed on to infants.

Remedial Option Six calls for partially dredging the parts of the river shore and capping a portion of the river bottom with layers of sand, silt, gravel and armor stone.  The other portion of the river bottom will be capped with sand, silt, but no gravel or armor stone.  “The EPA has never sufficiently explained or justified the proposed capping remedy,” said Ken Jock, Director of the Tribe’s Environment Division.

“The EPA has a record of poor stewardship in protecting our environment, with the General Motor’s partial clean-up, the Reynolds partial clean-up and now with the Alcoa partial clean-up,” remarked Tribal Chief Paul Thompson.  “That is still our land and the EPA should be using our standards for clean-up, not what the Alcoa scientists say should be done.”

The Tribal Council supports Remedial Option Number 10, which called for dredging of the river bottom to completely remove the contaminants.

“We will continue to monitor the remedy and we ask EPA to require a perpetual monitoring and maintenance fund be set up just for the Grasse River remedy,” said Randy Hart, Tribal Chief. “If the remedy is not effective Alcoa must go back into the river and fix it.”"

Friday, December 19, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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