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Mohawk official: EPA should choose Grasse River cleanup wisely

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MASSENA - The federal government should take its time as it selects a cleanup option for the Grasse River, according to a St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council official.

Jacob C. Terrance said he understood Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s call for “fast tracking” the proposed cleanup of the Grasse River but didn’t necessarily agree with it. He works as the Alcoa Superfund Oversight specialist for the tribe’s Environmental Division.

Mr. Terrance said he and other tribal government officials were not invited to Wednesday morning’s press conference at Alcoa West, but he heard about it in time to attend.

“I understand where Senator Schumer is coming from, seeing the bureaucracy and red tape slowing things down,” he said. “I would rather see EPA choose wisely than hurry up and make a big mistake down the line.”

The tribal government is serving as a consultant to the Environmental Protection Agency as it selects one of 10 Grasse River cleanup alternatives as its preferred option. The EPA will make the final decision on the several-mile cleanup which Alcoa has already agreed to fund. Those options range from doing nothing to nearly $1 billion in remediation. Several of the options are in the $200-$300 million range, EPA officials said.

The tribal government serves as a consultant for a couple reasons, Mr. Terrance said. The Grasse River flows into the St. Lawrence, which then flows by the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. The river is also a part of a 1796 treaty which gave the Mohawks rights to continue using the river “unhindered” even though it’s outside the reservation.

“We have traditional rights to the land and water surrounding that river,” he said.

Mr. Schumer urged the EPA to consider a $200 million option which Alcoa had proposed that includes capping and dredging of contaminated material. The tribal government, however would prefer a “more intense” remediation involving more dredging, Mr. Terrance said.

Permanent removal of contamination, instead of capping, is the tribal preferred cleanup method. Mr. Terrance said some areas could not be dredged but more should be than in the $200 million option.

“Once it’s out of there, it’s out of there,” he said. “There is no one single way to go about this ... Not all capping is going to work and not all dredging is possible.”

The tribal government’s goal is to return the river to a state where fish from there could be edible again. A warning has been posted along the effected section of the Grasse for a number of years warning residents and fishermen not to eat any fish caught in that area, which have been found to be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

“Our number one goal is to regain a lost resource,” he said.

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