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Schumer urges Alcoa to push forward with modernization

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MASSENA - Sen. Charles E. Schumer is urging Alcoa to push forward with a modernization of its Massena operations.

Mr. Schumer said he had a personal phone call with Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld Thursday to advocate for the company’s proposed project. Alcoa officials had stated in the past that they needed a clear idea of how much it would cost to clean up the Grasse River before they could commit to the modernization, Mr. Schumer said.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency released its proposed $243 million cleanup option for the river, which Alcoa will fund. The EPA will gather public comment on the proposal through Nov. 15, then will finalize the plan.

“Given that the (EPA) has done their due diligence and released a fair and timely cleanup plan for the Grasse River, the ball is on Alcoa’s court to expand their operations and create jobs in the north country,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “In my phone conversation with Alcoa’s CEO Klaus, I urged that he make a steadfast and final commitment to the company’s future in St. Lawrence County and move forward with all due speed towards a $600 million investment and upgrades at their plant in Massena.”

“The release of the Grasse River cleanup plan clears the last major hurdle towards Alcoa’s expansion, and now Alcoa must make their expansion plans loud and clear to the people and workers of St. Lawrence County,” he 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.

The March 31 deadline is associated with a board of directors meeting scheduled for that month, Alcoa spokeswoman Laurie A. Marr said Thursday. Alcoa is still on track to present the project to the corporate board by the end of that month, she said. If approved, construction would begin in June.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on the proposal,” Ms. Marr said.

Alcoa employees have mixed feelings about the link between the river cleanup proposal and the modernization project, according to United Steelworkers Local 450-A President David W. LaClair Jr. Some are hesitant at the potential cleanup cost, while others are excited that the modernization deadline is approaching and that the EPA is proceeding with the cleanup proposal.

Company officials told workers in a visit last year that the Alcoa needed to know the river cleanup costs before it could modernize, Mr. LaClair said.

“They know it’s headed in the right direction,” Mr. LaClair said of the plant’s employees. “The sooner we can find out, the easier it will be for everybody.”

In order to continue receiving low-cost hydro power from the New York Power Authority, Alcoa must invest at least $600 million in the modernized plant. The project will cost more than that, Plant Manager John Martin previously said.

The EPA released its proposed Grasse River remedial action plan Oct. 1; Mr. Schumer had visited Alcoa’s Massena operations in August to request the agency push forward with the cleanup proceedings. 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.

The $243 million 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.

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. The company employs approximately 1,100 between its two Massena plants.

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