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Trustee urges EPA to move ahead with cleanup

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MASSENA - A Massena village trustee is urging the federal Environmental Protection Agency to give serious consideration to Alcoa’s proposal to clean up the Grasse River rather than more costly alternatives.

Massena Village Trustee Timothy J. Ahlfeld sent a letter to EPA Remedial Project Manager Young S. Chang last week, asking her to consider Alcoa’s needs as they move ahead with the Grasse River Cleanup Plan.

“Basically, I had asked her to take into account what Alcoa wants on their Grasse River project, which is kind of a push between what Alcoa wants and what some of the constituents in and around the river want,” Mr. Ahlfeld said.

The EPA has proposed a $243 million remedial action plan for the river, a cost Alcoa will fund. The proposed plan requires dredging and capping of contaminated sediment in a 7.2-mile stretch of river.

Mr. Ahlfeld noted that if the cleanup plan is too expensive Alcoa might pull the plug on the Massena plant entirely. “(I asked) her to follow the science and listen to what Alcoa wants rather than to put together a project that there’s no way they could afford and would have a detrimental affect on the area,” he said.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council is calling for more dredging in the final cleanup plan adopted by the EPA. The tribal government’s preferred option could cost at least $350 million, more than $100 million more than the EPA’s plan, according to Jacob C. Terrance, Superfund oversight specialist with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Environment Division.

Tribal officials have said they feel more dredging should be done performed in the main channel to make the remedy a more permanent remedy.”

Dredging initially stirs up contaminants but can remove them in the long run, Mr. Terrance said. Polychlorinated biphenyl levels in smallmouth bass, brown bullhead and spottail shiner all spiked during the dredging, but then subsided in the years after to near pre-dredging levels, he said.

However, the added costs of more dredging might exceed a price that Alcoa can afford, which is Mr. Ahlfeld’s concern.

“Alcoa is the lifeblood of this community, and is seeking to infuse vast sums of money into another large capital project,” Mr. Ahlfeld wrote in his letter to Ms. Chang. “Care must be taken to avoid allowing the voices of a few to dictate the future of our area.”

Mr. Ahlfeld told his fellow village board members Wednesday night he forwarded the email to a number of state and federal representatives, but he had received no response to the contents of his correspondence. “I have heard absolutely nothing back from them, Nobody has had the decency to respond,” he said.

“That’s all your elected officials for you,” Trustee Albert “Herb” Deshaies grumbled.

Massena Village Mayor James F. Hidy noted that he too sent a letter to these representatives and had also not received any response. “You’re right, it’s frustrating,” Mr. Hidy agreed with Mr. Ahlfeld.

Mr. Hidy encouraged members of the local community to attend the EPA’s public hearings on the Grasse River Cleanup Plan on Nov. 14 and 15. There will be an information session from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Massena Town Hall and a public meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Massena Central High School.

“I encourage everybody to attend these meetings. Get your families out and support Alcoa. We want to keep Alcoa here. It’s Massena last lifeline,” Massena’s mayor noted.

There will be a second public information session from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 in the St. Regis Mohawk School at 385 Church St., Akwesasne, and a second public meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. that night at the Office for the Aging at 29 Business Park Rd., Akwesasne.

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