Federal Officials, GE Reach Agreement To Conduct Hudson River Dredging

General Electric (GE) will begin dredging portions of the upper Hudson River in 2007 to remove sediments contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), under an agreement reached with the federal government.

An 83-page consent decree, lodged on Oct. 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, requires GE to begin the dredging called for in EPA's 2002 record of decision (ROD) for the Hudson River PCB Superfund site. Under the terms of the consent decree (http://www.epa.gov/hudson/consent_decree/consent_decree.pdf), GE will construct the sediment transfer/processing facility needed for the project and perform the first phase of the dredging according to design plans being developed under a prior agreement. The dredging is scheduled for the 2007 spring through fall dredging season. The agreement also calls for GE to pay EPA up to $78 million for the agency's past and future costs. EPA already has collected $37 million from GE through past settlements.

The ROD (http://www.epa.gov/hudson/d_rod.htm#record)divides the dredging of PCB-contaminated sediments into two phases. The first phase of the dredging will remove about 10 percent of the total volume of PCB-contaminated sediment slated for dredging during the full cleanup project. Together with the construction of the sediment transfer/processing facility, the first phase is expected to cost between $100 million and $150 million. The remaining phase of the dredging is expected to take five years. The ultimate goal is to restore one of the country's most important cultural and ecological resources, using approaches designed to minimize impacts on local communities throughout the life of the project.

"This is an historic agreement that commits GE to begin dredging the Hudson River," said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "This is an important milestone in this complex environmental project that will result in a healthier river, providing vast economic and recreational opportunities."

Following the ROD, EPA developed a number of engineering and quality of life performance standards relating to the conduct of the dredging. During early 2008, following GE's completion of the Phase 1 dredging, the dredging-to-date will be evaluated by an independent peer review panel, which will consider possible changes to the engineering performance standards. EPA will seek public input during the peer review process.

EPA will consider the conclusions of the peer review panel and determine whether changes to the performance standards should be made. The agency will inform GE of any modifications that would be required during Phase 2 of the dredging program. GE will then have the option to agree to conduct Phase 2 of the dredging. If the company agrees to perform Phase 2, the work would be carried out under the terms of the Oct. 6 agreement. Because the settlement is comprehensive and addresses both phases of the dredging, it allows for a seamless transition in the event that GE elects to perform Phase 2. If GE does not agree to conduct the Phase 2 dredging, EPA fully reserves all of its enforcement authorities, including its right to direct the company to perform the dredging and/or sue in district court to require GE to perform Phase 2 or to reimburse EPA for its costs if the agency conducts Phase 2 using government funds, officials said.

Additionally, the agreement contains a provision to help ensure that there is no delay in the transition between Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project. It requires GE to spend up to $5 million between the end of the Phase 1 dredging and the date of GE's decision whether or not to conduct Phase 2, to prepare for the initiation of the second phase of dredging during the fall of 2008.

The consent decree calls for GE to pay EPA $78 million for the agency's past and future costs at the site if GE takes on Phase 2, and about $43 million for such costs if GE only conducts the first phase of the dredging. With the approximately $37 million collected under previous settlements, the Agency could ultimately receive a total of $115 million from GE if it performs both phases of the cleanup under this agreement.

The agreement also contains a provision that provides additional health protections for people who may not be fully aware of state restrictions on consuming Hudson River fish. Although New York state is not a party to the settlement, the agreement requires GE to pay the state $3 million to support its efforts to assist the public in understanding and complying with the state fish consumption advisories. GE will provide an additional $1 million to this effort if it decides to conduct the Phase 2 dredging under the consent decree.

The agreement does not address GE's liability for natural resource damages.

For approximately 30 years, ending in the 1970s, GE discharged large quantities of PCBs into the river from two major manufacturing facilities along the Hudson River. The contaminants posed environmental and health threats to river wildlife and people who eat fish from the river. In 2002, the agency reached the decision to dredge an estimated 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediments from a 43-mile stretch of the river from Hudson Falls, N.Y., to the Federal Dam at Troy. The agency has reached two previous agreements with GE under which the company agreed to conduct the extensive sediment sampling needed to identify the areas to be dredged and to design the project. Other milestones include the collection and analysis of more than 48,000 samples from the river bottom, the completion of strict engineering and quality of life performance standards to protect public health and minimize impacts from the project, and the selection of a site for the sediment transfer/processing facility.

In August, GE submitted the Intermediate Design Report for Phase 1 of the cleanup to EPA for review. This document contains key information about the cleanup of the river, including the type of dredging equipment that will be used, hours of operation, and the layout of the sediment transfer/processing facility in Fort Edward, N.Y.

The consent decree can be accessed at the U.S. Department of Justice's Web site: http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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