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EPA proposes $243 million Grasse River cleanup

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MASSENA — Alcoa could spend $243 million to remediate decades-old contamination issues in the Grasse River.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its proposed Grasse River remedial action plan Monday. The proposed plan requires dredging and capping of contaminated sediment in a 7.2-mile stretch of river.

The EPA explored 10 different cleanup alternatives, ranging from a “do-nothing” option costing nothing to one costing nearly $1 billion, spokeswoman Larisa W. Romanowski said previously.

Several alternatives were in the $200 million to $300 million range and involved a combination of dredging and capping contaminated areas of the river. Alcoa will fund whichever cleanup option is chosen.

EPA chose the $243 million option because it best fulfilled the agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment, Ms. Romanowski said.

For more than 20 years, Alcoa has worked with state and federal agencies to clean up contaminated areas near its Massena East and West plants, and cleaning up a several-mile stretch of the Grasse is the next step in that process. Spokeswoman Laurie A. Marr said the company was prepared to work with the EPA on the cleanup.

“We’re very pleased to see this important step in the process,” she said.

The 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.

Alcoa had spent 15 years and $65 million on Grasse River cleanup research, which concluded capping could sufficiently address contamination concerns, but EPA’s proposed plan includes both capping and dredging.

“While Alcoa believes that a capping remedy is both protective of human health and the environment and complements the natural recovery that is already occurring in the river, we look forward to working with EPA and the other agencies on the proposed remedy during the design and implementation phases of the project,” Kevin Anton, Alcoa vice president and chief sustainability officer, said in a statement.

Opinions differ on the link between the river’s cleanup and the proposed modernization of Alcoa’s Massena operations. Sen. Charles E. Schumer urged the EPA in August to “fast-track” the river cleanup because Alcoa needed to know its costs as it decides whether to modernize next spring.

Alcoa’s board of directors is to decide by March 31 whether to commit to a modernization of its Massena facilities. Local staff is using the time between now and then to hammer out the details and make Massena as attractive as possible to corporate officers. Alcoa’s commitment to modernization could help retain employees and ensure the company’s future here for decades.

But Ms. Marr downplayed the link between the cleanup and the decision to modernize.

“They’re two separate projects. They each have their own timeline,” Ms. Marr said. “We have an obligation to implement the best solution for the Grasse River.”

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said Alcoa’s awareness of the cleanup’s costs before the modernization decision is a positive step.

“It’s a very substantial amount of money and it’s indicative of their commitment to cleaning up the river,” Mr. Gray said. “The process has been going on for a long time and needed to move to the next level.”

“We need to clean the river and get on with the business of the day and let Alcoa know where its future is in Massena,” he said. “This will enable Alcoa to secure its future in Massena.”

Jacob C. Terrance of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s environmental division previously said his office was pleased to offer input for EPA’s proposal. Mr. Terrance could not be reached for comment Monday.

Alcoa officials said the planning and design phase will take two to three years, with the cleanup taking an additional four. Most funding for the cleanup will be spent from 2016 to 2020.

The EPA will consider community input before finalizing the plan, and will hold several formal public meetings and informal information sessions Oct. 29 and 30 in Akwesasne and Massena. The agency encourages the public to comment on the plan through Nov. 15. For more information on the Grasse River cleanup, visit www.thegrasseriver.com and www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/npl/aluminumcompany.

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