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Schumer urges Alcoa to push forward with modernization

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MASSENA — Sen. Charles E. Schumer is urging Alcoa to push forward with modernizing its Massena plants.

Mr. Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke with Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld on Thursday to advocate for the company’s proposed project, according to a statement from the senator’s office. Alcoa officials had said they needed a clear idea of how much it would cost to clean up the Grasse River before they could commit to an upgrade of at least $600 million.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed $243 million cleanup option for the river, which Alcoa will fund. The EPA will gather public comment on the proposal through Nov. 15 before finalizing the plan.

“Given that the (EPA) has done their due diligence and released a fair and timely cleanup plan for the Grasse River, the ball is on Alcoa’s court to expand their operations and create jobs in the north country,” Mr. Schumer said in the statement. “In my phone conversation with Alcoa’s CEO Klaus, I urged that he make a steadfast and final commitment to the company’s future in St. Lawrence County and move forward with all due speed towards a $600 million investment and upgrades at their plant in Massena.”

“The release of the Grasse River cleanup plan clears the last major hurdle towards Alcoa’s expansion, and now Alcoa must make their expansion plans loud and clear to the people and workers of St. Lawrence County,” he said.

Alcoa’s board of directors will decide whether to commit to the Massena project by March 31. Local staff is using the interim to work out details and make Massena as attractive as possible to the corporate bosses. A commitment by Alcoa would be expected to retain the local work force and ensure the company’s future here for decades.

The March 31 deadline is associated with a board of directors meeting scheduled for that month, Alcoa spokeswoman Laurie A. Marr said Thursday. Alcoa is still on track to present the project to the corporate board by then, she said. If approved, construction would begin in June.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on the proposal,” Ms. Marr said.

Alcoa employees have mixed feelings about the link between the river cleanup proposal and the modernization project, according to United Steelworkers Local 450-A President David W. LaClair Jr. Some are hesitant at the potential cleanup cost, while others are excited that the modernization deadline is approaching and the EPA is proceeding with the cleanup proposal.

Company officials told workers in a visit last year that Alcoa needed to know the river cleanup cost before it could modernize, Mr. LaClair said.

“They know it’s headed in the right direction,” Mr. LaClair said of the plant’s employees. “The sooner we can find out, the easier it will be for everybody.”

In order to continue receiving low-cost hydro power from the New York Power Authority, Alcoa must invest at least $600 million in the modernized plant. The project will cost more than that, Plant Manager John Martin said previously.

The EPA released its proposed Grasse River remedial action plan Oct. 1; Mr. Schumer had visited Alcoa’s Massena operations in August to request the agency push forward with the cleanup proceedings.

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