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Grasse River cleanup plan due soon

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MASSENA - The proposal to remediate the polluted Grasse River will be released “very soon,” according to environmental officials.

The Environmental Protection Agency has finished exploring 10 different cleanup alternatives, ranging from a “do-nothing” option costing $0 to one costing nearly $1 billion, spokeswoman Larisa W. Romanowski previously said.

Several alternatives are in the $200-$300 million range and involve a combination of dredging and capping contaminated areas of the river; Alcoa will fund whichever cleanup option is chosen.

For over 20 years, Alcoa has worked with state and federal agencies to remediate contaminated areas near its Massena East and West Plants and cleaning up a several-mile stretch of the Grasse is the next stop in that process. In August, EPA promised to release its preferred cleanup option by Oct. 1. The agency will then hold community meetings and gather public comments before reaching a final decision on the cleanup process, which may take a couple of months.

EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears said Friday details could come as soon as Monday; the plan is expected to be released next week. Public meetings will be held in Massena and Akwesasne at the end of October, she said.

Alcoa had not received the proposal as of Friday afternoon and is looking forward to it, according to spokeswoman Laurie A. Marr.

“We’ve worked cooperatively with the EPA and other stakeholders for many years,” she said. “We’ll comment on it after we had the opportunity to review it.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer visited Massena in August urged the EPA to “fast-track” the cleanup and to select a $200 million cleanup option. He tied the cleanup to the proposed modernization of the Massena aluminum plants; Alcoa needs more information about the cleanup’s costs before it decides to modernize, Mr. Schumer said.

The sooner EPA informs Alcoa of the project costs the better off Massena will be, Mr. Schumer said. Alcoa’s board of directors ultimately will decide whether to commit to a modernization of its Massena facilities by March 31, 2013.

Local staff are using the time between now and then to hammer out the details and make Massena as attractive as possible to corporate. Alcoa’s commitment to modernization could help retain employees and ensure the company’s future here for decades to come. Grasse River cleanup costs are one of several factors Alcoa will consider when it decides whether to modernize, Ms. Marr previously said.

There has been “much progress made” on the cleanup proposal, according to Jacob C. Terrance, who works the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Environmental Division.

He was pleased with the amount of input the tribal government was able to provide in EPA’s proposal, but declined comment on it until it is released.

“There’s been much consultation between the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the U.S. EPA,” Mr. Terrance said. “The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe is glad to see the EPA consider the tribe’s interest, goals and the process of developing the (proposed remedial action plan.)”

The tribal government serves as a consultant for a couple reasons, Mr. Terrance previously 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.

The tribal government prefers a “more intense” remediation involving more dredging than Mr. Schumer’s $200 million option, Mr. Terrance previously said. Some sections of the EPA’s proposal will reflect the tribal government’s input, he said.

“There are certain sections where we had to have much discussions with EPA to include our point of view,” he said.

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