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More work is needed to avoid Hudson River 'limbo'

More work is needed to avoid Hudson River 'limbo'
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Southern Saratoga County is one of the most vibrant areas in New York’s Hudson River Valley. The majestic river and the beautiful landscapes along it make the communities we serve beautiful and productive places for families to live, play and work. These “green” assets power the strongest, most reliable economic engines in New York State — tourism, agriculture, outdoor recreation, industry and transportation.

Unfortunately, planning for a more economically and environmentally sustainable future along the Hudson remains a difficult and nearly insurmountable challenge because of the legacy of cancer-causing PCB contamination that has fouled the river’s sediment, fish and waters for the last 70 years.

And despite six years of dredging PCBs from the bottom of the upper Hudson, it appears that restoration of one of our state’s most irreplaceable natural resources — and a healthier, more prosperous future for communities along it — is much further out of reach.

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The presence of these toxins has had devastating effects on the communities along the Hudson River. They have caused closure of a historic and long-profitable commercial fishing industry, hampered the operation of marinas, led to a severe curtailment of marine transport on the Champlain Canal (vital for connecting the Port of New York with upstate harbors, the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes), and severely curtailed ambitious economic development opportunities from Manhattan to Fort Edward.

 

We continue to endure serious health threats from consuming fish — a special hardship for the low-income and minority populations that depend on them for subsistence. An entire ecosystem remains toxic to wildlife, while communities have been forced to build expensive water treatment plants or seek alternative drinking water supplies to safeguard resident's health. 

This summer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft review of the PCB cleanup. The message was confusing. For the first time, the EPA conceded that the cleanup to date does not meet the basic Superfund standard of being “protective of the environment and public health.” This is an important step in the right direction; however, the agency claimed — without supporting data — that the river will be protective in 50 or more years.

The draft failed to acknowledge scientific analysis, presented by New York State and two of the EPA’s sister federal agencies, which seriously undermined the claim that the cleanup will achieve its goals. If the EPA reaches the same conclusion in its final review, due this fall, it could shut the door on further cleanup and delay benefits communities receive from the river for generations longer. It also means New York’s taxpayers will likely bear the burden to clean up a toxic mess they did not create.

Burdening New York taxpayers is simply unacceptable. There is a groundswell of people and agencies who join me in feeling this way, including: scientists from New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; New York’s Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandPentagon launches civilian-led commission to address military sexual assault Capito asks White House to allow toxic chemicals rule to proceed Lobbying world MORE (D); more than a dozen House members; hundreds of state legislators, business leaders and local government officials throughout the Hudson Valley; and thousands of citizens. All have united in urging the EPA to commit to the cleanup goals outlined in the agreements that were made for the river.

Data confirm that time and nature will not fix this situation — we must recognize this and plan for more action as soon as possible. The EPA can pave the way by determining in its final review that the cleanup “is not protective” and eliminating the claim that “the cleanup will be protective.”

The EPA should call for a formal investigation of contamination in the lower Hudson and refrain from certifying the cleanup is complete until the goals of the project are met.

The EPA’s final determination of its five year review will be a major marker not only for the Hudson River communities, but also for this administration, as it will set a precedent for its approach to other Superfund sites across the country.

Hudson River communities are striving to be all they can be from both an environmental and economic perspective. Let’s ensure that all impediments to their success are removed once and for all.

Pete Bardunias is the president and CEO of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County, which is the third largest chamber in New York's Capital Region.