- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - As six years of Hudson River dredging winds down, trustees assessing harm from PCB releases asked regulators to delay the dismantling of a crucial cleanup facility in case more dredging is recommended for the slowly recovering waters.

The Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees’ request highlights a contentious issue coming to a head as General Electric finishes dredging a 40-mile stretch of the river north of Albany.

Advocates who say more dredging is needed to effectively clean the river want to make sure the facility GE uses to treat PCB-contaminated waste is not dismantled this winter once dredging is done. General Electric, which released PCBs into the upper river before 1977, says it has successfully met all of its commitments to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the estimated $2 billion Superfund project.

Two trustees, in a letter to the EPA released Tuesday, said the river appears to be recovering more slowly than initially predicted. With higher-than-expected concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls, it could take decades longer than expected before some fish can be safely eaten with greater frequency, they said.

The trustees are making assessments of the total harm done to the river’s resources, which could lead to either a settlement with GE over the company’s liability or to litigation. In the letter to the EPA, the trustees said allowing the “demobilizing” of the cleanup facility now could limit restoration options.

“Now is the time for GE to thoroughly address their PCB contamination of the Hudson River,” according to the letter.

GE said Thursday the facility will not be needed once dredging is finished in the coming days, and that to “retain an unneeded facility serves no purpose.”

“Contrary to the baseless speculation of the Trustee agencies, EPA, which has approved and overseen every aspect of this project, has determined that the dredging project has achieved its goals of protecting the environment and public health,” GE said in a prepared statement.

EPA regional Superfund director Walter Mugdan said it will be years before there will be enough data to accurately detect trends in PCB levels in river fish, but he said the dredging has gone well.

“We think the project has been a great success,” he said.

The trustees’ letter was signed by representatives from the federal Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was not signed by a representative of the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation.

There was no immediate comment from state officials or the trustees, and it was not clear why New York officials did not sign the letter.

Asked about additional dredging several weeks ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reportedly said that GE should “follow the law and the agreements that have been made.”

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