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The Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of Alcoa’s cleanup plan for the Grasse River clears the way for the aluminum manufacturer to modernize its Massena facility.

Under a 30-year agreement with the New York Power Authority, Alcoa has committed to a $600 million upgrade of its East Plant in exchange for low-cost electricity generated by the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt hydroelectric project. However, it was contingent on the EPA accepting Alcoa’s $243 million proposal to clean up several miles of the Grasse River contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.

The approved plan is in the middle of several choices ranging from doing nothing to a costly and perhaps deal-breaking $1.3 billion dredging and capping of the river that could have proved too expensive for the company to proceed with modernization. Alcoa has already spent $250 million on cleaning up contaminated land to prevent further leeching of contaminants into the river and already reduced PCB levels in fish substantially.

Alcoa’s commitment will maintain 900 jobs at its operations not to mention the construction jobs and employment opportunities that will be created by the clean up for the next several years for unemployed north country residents who will be able to stay here and remain in their homes. Tricounty unemployment rates are among the highest in the state led by Lewis County at 13 percent and Jefferson County the third highest in the state with 12.3 percent. St. Lawrence County has a jobless rate of 11.5 percent.

EPA approval makes it possible for Alcoa to proceed with the first phase of its modernization plan with $42 million in site and engineering work.

There are those who object that the EPA approved remediation plan does not go far enough and would force the company to undertake the costliest, $1.3 billion plan, but that opposition should not stand in the way of what will be an investment of more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in one of the poorest regions of the state.

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