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Speakers link Alcoa remediation plan to modernization project at EPA session


MASSENA - Most of the nearly dozen speakers - many with ties to Alcoa - attending a public hearing Wednesday night in Massena on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Grasse River Remediation Project voiced support for the federal agency’s $243 million plan to clean up the river sediment contaminated by nearly two decades worth of industrial pollutants

Most residents expressed support for the EPA’s proposed $243 million remediation plan and said it’s time to get the project underway. Many noted that Alcoa had spent 15 years and $65 million on Grasse River cleanup research.

EPA officials have noted Alcoa released wastes from its aluminum production and fabrication facilities, including polychlorinated biphenyls and other industrial pollutants from the 1950s until the mid-1970s onto the facility’s property and into the Grasse River.

Those actions have resulted in contaminated sediments in the waters near the Alcoa West plant and approximately seven miles downstream. Alcoa is liable for the costs of the cleanup, any many in the community feel if the costs are too high the company will scrap plans on the table for a multi-million modernization project in Massena. The company’s board of directors currently has a March 2013 deadline to determine the fate of the modernization plan.

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. Some fear that without low-cost hydro power, Alcoa might decide to close down its Massena operations.

Massena residents and officials suggested Alcoa needs to have the cleanup costs in hand before that March 2013 deadline for the modernization plan.

“I believe that this is the best plan for those that live on the river, for those that enjoy the river, and also for my community,” Susan D. Kramer of Massena said. “I ask you to please hurry up and proceed.”

The EPA explored 10 different cleanup alternatives, ranging from a three-year, $114 million option to an 18-year, $1.3 billion option, EPA Remedial Project Manager Young S. Chang said.

The proposed plan recommends dredging approximately 109,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment in areas close to the shore. In the river’s center, approximately 225 acres of sediment would be capped with clean sand and gravel to isolate the contamination. Another 59 acres would receive an additional “armored cap” of large rocks to further isolate that area’s contamination.

Several residents voiced concern of the affect the project will have on Alcoa. The proposed project is estimated at $243 million but other options explored by the EPA could cost up to 50 percent more or less than that, Ms. Chang said. Ms. Chang added that based on her experiences, projects are more likely to go over the estimated cost than under.

“I hope you take (into consideration) that this is a very depressed economy up here, and we are quite concerned - as a community, as a region - about Alcoa and their longevity,” Massena Town Councilman Albert Nicola said.

While Alcoa is required by law to fully fund the remediation project, the company has yet to commit to the plant modernization.

“Any solution that does not result in a modernized Alcoa (plant) is no solution - not for us,” said Michael Almasian, executive director of the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena.

Alcoa officials expressed support for EPA’s plan, but maintained that they believe a cheaper, capping-only remedy could be just as effective as EPA’s proposal.

“Based on the finding of the study, Alcoa believes that a capping remedy is effective in maintaining the health of humans and the environment, and provides a viable long-term solution for the river,” said Steven Rombough, manufacturing manager of Alcoa.

EPA officials believe near-shore dredging is needed to remove contaminants in that part of the river, because the steep slope of the riverbed near the shore make it very difficult to cap, Ms. Chang said.

Ms. Chang also said that although the EPA does consider the cost of a remediation it did not choose a plan based on what will benefit Alcoa.

“This (plan) is not recommended with the thought of keeping Alcoa alive,” Ms. Chang said. “I understand what the public sentiments are; however, this (plan) was chosen because it’s technically the best solution as the EPA sees it.”

Massena businessman Real “Frenchie” Coupal noted he has been involved with the community advisory board involved with the Grasse River remediation project for two decaded and urged the EPA to move forward with its $243 million cleanup plan.

“We’ve studied every tree, frog, fish in and on that river, every rock has been turned over. You finally arrived at a plan Alcoa can probably live with. Please, dig a hole, let’s get going. It’s going to be five more years before you even dig a shovel. The new plant will probably be started by then,” said.

A small number of county residents, including Donald Hassig of Colton and Donald Lucas of Massena, expressed concenr the proposal might not go far enough in removing PCBs - a known carcinogen - from the Grasse River.

Charles J. Kader of Rooseveltown said Alcoa’s contaminats are to blame for high rates of cancer and illness among residents of the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation. He wants the company to pursue the most thorough remediation option available, regardless of cost.

“Their neighbors, living in Akwesasne, as well as others living downriver of Massena, deserve to see this cleanup done the right way,” Mr. Kader said. “A right to a wrong from an earlier time, but also a way to send a signal to neighbors, friends and allies.”

Those concerns are expected to be echoed today when the EPA holds a public information session and a public hearing on the agency’sproposed cleanup in Akwesasne. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council has expressed its opposition to the EPA’s proposed $243 million remediation plan, saying capping is not an adequate method of cleaning up the river.

“Capping is not a permanent remedy and ice scour is a constant threat to any cap in the Grasse River,” Ken Jock, director of the tribal government’s environment division, said in a statement released last mnth. “Therefore we do not support the capping of the highly contaminated sediments in main channel.”

Ms. Chang said dredging is not effective in the main channel, due to the solid bedrock and high amounts of debris in the riverbed.

“Even if you had all the money in the world and fully dredged it, you’re not going to be able to capture all the contaminants in the main channel at this site,” Ms. Chang said. “It’s not achievable, and that’s because of the condition we have in the main channel.”

Jacob C. Terrance, Superfund oversight specialist with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Environment Division, hs said Mohawk officials would like to see a remedy that includes additional dredging at high-contaminant areas of the main channel.

EPA officials will hear the concerns at a public information session from 1 to 3 p.m. today in the St. Regis Mohawk School at 385 Church St., Akwesasne, and at a public meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. tonight at the Office for the Aging at 29 Business Park Rd., Akwesasne.

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