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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 $243 million Grasse River remedial action plan on 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 previously said.

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 stop 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 on the link between the river’s cleanup and the proposed modernization of Alcoa’s Massena operations differ. 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 are 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 to come.

On Monday, Mr. Schumer praised EPA’s $243 million proposal, $43 million more than the estimate he provided in August.

“This plan is very positive news for both the environment and the economy of the north country. After years of work, the EPA has mapped out a balanced way to clean the Grasse River and protect public health without breaking the bank. I will work hand-in-glove with all stakeholders to see that this historic investment in the north country economy and environment can serve as a springboard for the long-term growth and vibrancy of Alcoa,” he said in a statement. “I am hopeful that this plan gives Alcoa, already the largest employer in the north country, the confidence needed to move forward with a potential $600 million investment in their Massena plant, and will fight to ensure they have the tools necessary to do so in the coming months.”

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

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

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said Alcoa’s awareness of the cleanup’s costs prior to 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 in EPA’s proposal. Mr. Terrance could not be reached for comment on Monday.

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

The EPA will consider community input before finalizing the plan and hold several meetings in Akwesasne and Massena to gather public comment.

The agency is encouraging the public to comment on the plan through Nov. 15 and has scheduled informal public information sessions on the plan from 1-3 p.m. Oct. 29 in the St. Regis Mohawk School’s multipurpose room and at the same time the next day in Massena Town Hall. The EPA will hold additional public meetings from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 29 at the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Office for the Aging, Akwesasne, and at the same time the next night in Massena Town Hall.

Ms. Romanowski said the EPA will then take time to compile and consider the public comment gathered at those sessions before it issues a final Record of Decision.

For more information on the Grasse River Cleanup, visit http://www.thegrasseriver.com/ and http://www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/npl/aluminumcompany/ .

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