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RACER Officials: We’re not leaving this job until we’re finished


MASSENA - Despite being millions of dollars over budget, RACER (Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response) Trust officials said Thursday that they are committed to the clean-up of Massena’s former GM plant, no matter how much it ends up costing.

Environmental Protection Agency Project Manager Ann E. Kelley said in a presentation outlining work done at the former GM site so far that nearly three times as much waste as anticipated has been hauled from the site.

When the project was approved by the bankruptcy court, it was anticipated that 120,000 tons of hazardous waste would be removed. To date, Ms. Kelley said 335,000 tons have been removed.

She explained 25,000 tons were removed when the main plant was demolished, 150,000 tons were removed when the slab and underground tunnels were removed, with another 160,000 tons being removed during the clean-up of the property’s northern disposal area.

“In addition to discovering property that was more contaminated that anticipated, Ms. Kelley noted much of the waste from the site was “very dense.”

Typically she said a cubic yard of waste weighs roughly 1.4 tons. However, waste removed from Massena’s GM site has been weighing in between 1.8 and 1.9 tons per cubic yard.

Noting the impact that has had on project costs, she said, “You pay by the weight, you don’t pay by volume. We have spent more on disposal than we had anticipated.”

When asked how exactly those figures translated to dollars, Ms. Kelley declined to specify just how far over budget the project is so far.

M. Brendan Mullen, who serves as New York state project manager for the trust, said it’s important to remember the project’s $121 million price tag wasn’t just for the disposal and cleanup of the property, meaning that while that portion of the project is over budget, there is money that is still available.

Mr. Mullen also said that if need be there is a $68 million pool of money available that RACER could dip into if need be to help complete the site’s clean-up.

Should that money be exhausted, which Mr. Mullen said was unlikely, given the site’s designation as a Super Fund site, the federal government would step in to ensure clean-up there was complete.

As for the $68 million, Ms. Kelley said that money isn’t owned by the EPA, the trust or anyone in particular, with trusts from other states where RACER is working having to agree to release the funds.

“You have to ask for the cushion fund,” she said, adding, “You can’t ask until you demonstrate need.”

She did say though, that if necessary, there was believes there is enough money in that fund to complete Massena’s remediation project.

“The $68 million would get us done,” she said.

Mr. Mullen said the trust has yet to reach the point of needing those funds, but he is expecting to hit that point sometime in the coming year.

“The thing everyone should take away from this is RACER’s not leaving the table. We are committed to this and we are liable. We have a liability,” he said. “We’re not leaving this job until we finish and we anticipate being done in 2016.”

“It’s not unusual for Superfund sites to be have cost overruns. Our volume and tonnage are higher than we expected, but our cost projections, our estimates, are not beyond what would be in the cushion fund,” Mr. Mullen stressed.

Ms. Kelley agreed.

“We have found more than expected, but we are going to clean up all of it,” she said.

Mr. Mullen also said Massena has an advantage when it comes to using funds from the $68 million contingency fund, noting the remediation efforts in Massena are further along than they are in other places.

“We’ve had a great relationship locally. It has been a very successful remediation process - a team approach with the EPA, the DEC (New York state Department of Environmental Conservation), the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the contractors on the ground,” he said.

Task force member Real “Frenchie” Coupal said while he was initially skeptical of the trust, he has come to realize they are working with Massena’s best interests at hear.

“You have done exactly what you said you were going to do and you’re not going to leave Massena,” he said. “We all appreciate that.”

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