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Public comment on EPA’s Grasse River remediation ends

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MASSENA — The period for public comment for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Grasse River Remediation project ended last week.

The EPA will now evaluate comments and craft the Record of Decision, a document that outlines the reasoning for its decision, takes public concerns into consideration and provides responses to those concerns. The decision will be made by Judith A. Enck, administrator for Region 2 of the EPA. Remedial project manager Young S. Chang estimates the decision will be made within one to three months.

Ms. Chang said her agency still has letters and emails of comments to read through, and she has received more comment on this project than with previous remediation projects she’s worked on.

All comments will be made available to the public via the Record of Decision, Ms. Chang said.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., voiced his support for the EPA’s proposal for the river cleanup.

“I am pleased to see this consistent and measured progress toward the clean-up of the Grasse River. I am now urging the EPA to stick to schedule and finalize this plan, which will pave the way for Alcoa’s anticipated commitment to their multi-million-dollar expansion in Massena, grow jobs and bring millions in additional investment to St. Lawrence County and its largest employer,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement.

EPA officials have said 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 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.

Once the plan is chosen, Alcoa will begin pre-design investigative work, which is expected to last two to three years and will include assessing habitat conditions of the river, finalizing the design and evaluating and selecting contractors for the work, according to Laurie Marr, communications and public affairs manager for Alcoa.

Massena officials have voiced concern that if the cost of the cleanup project is too high, a more than $600 million modernization project at Alcoa will be squashed, and the plant could close. For this reason, Massena officials support the proposed project. With an estimated cost of about $243 million, it’s near the low end of the alternatives explored by the EPA, which range from $114 million to $1.3 billion.

The plan “is acceptable from the town’s standpoint. We need an environmentally sound remediation and one that allows Alcoa to be a viable and profitable business,” town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said.

But reservation residents and officials have been highly critical of the proposed plan, saying it does not go far enough to remove environmental contaminants that include carcinogenic PCBs. Mohawk officials have said they want to see all toxic contaminants removed from the river — to provide a healthy environment for the next generation — no matter what the cost or time frame.

The proposed project “was not acceptable at the time of public comment, and it’s still not acceptable,” according to Charles Kader, clerk of the men’s council of the People of the Way of the Longhouse. “The people I spoke to were not convinced the proposed project would be enough to get the river to an acceptable state.”

Mr. Kader also said the EPA did not do enough to hear the concerns of the people of Akwesasne.

“It left the community unable to adequately explain that (the proposed project) will never do enough to clean up the site,” he said. “I think two rounds of public comment at least would have been effective.”

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