As Hudson River dredging nears end, fate of processing facility a flashpoint for controversy

Advocates pushing for General Electric Co. to extend its massive dredging of the upper Hudson River beyond this year are alarmed by the revelation that the company has begun winding down some operations at the plant processing contaminated river sediment.

GE expects this fall to finish removing roughly 2.7 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment under a Superfund agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

With the end of the six-year cleanup in sight, GE has dismantled one of two barge unloading stations at the "dewatering facility" near the river used to treat sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls. And some plumbing and electric work has been disconnected in areas of the plant no longer being used, among other actions, according to GE and the EPA.

GE spokesman Mark Behan said the "demobilization," first disclosed at a community meeting last week, is being done with EPA's approval and will not impair dredging this season.

"Work to permanently shut down the plant has not begun," said EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears.

Advocates lobbying for GE to dredge beyond the Superfund project boundaries believe the prospects of that happening are slim once the dewatering facility is dismantled. Crews can't dredge without a facility, and it would be costly to recommission.

"It's basically dismantling the dewatering facility piece by piece," said Althea Mullarkey of Scenic Hudson, an environmental group that believes more dredging is needed to thoroughly clean the river.

Advocates were exploring potential options Tuesday to make sure the facility is maintained.

GE, which discharged PCBs into the river decades ago, has consistently maintained that it is removing all of the PCBs targeted by the EPA. The company has shown no inclination to voluntarily extend dredging.

Government trustees who under Superfund law will assess the harm done to the river could potentially try to hold GE liable for the untreated areas.