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SUNY ESF Courses and Design Studios

This news article was published following a student design studio in Spring semester 2009 with Emanuel Carter (LA).

A future with fewer PCBs
After project, what will be the impact on local interests?

Updated: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 1:05 AM EDT

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Editor's note: This is the third in a three-part series looking into the past, present and future of the Hudson River dredging project, which started Friday.


In 2015, if all goes as planned, the largest cleanup of PCBs in history will be nearing completion.

General Electric Co. will be about to turn over the massive complex that separated chemically tainted sediment to the property's owner, a limited liability corporation owned by D.A. Collins.

The Hudson River will be less polluted, but not free of polychlorinated biphenyls.

And the end of dredging will raise new questions.

What will this mean for the Hudson River's ecology? Will bans on fish consumption be lifted? How will Fort Edward, the community hosting the cleanup, fare?

"By no means are all of the PCBs going to be taken out," said David Carpenter, a professor of environmental science at the University at Albany. "They're only going to be removed from the upper Hudson and so the lower Hudson won't be changed. But the situation in the upper Hudson will be vastly improved."

Still, it's unclear if fishing advisories up and down the river -- which vary from location to location -- will be lifted by the state Department of Health.

"It's a hard question to really answer, but I don't think anyone really know for certain," said Carpenter, who has studied the effects of polychlorinated biphenyls on fish and human populations. "Clearly, the levels of contaminated fish are going to be much less."

Carpenter believes the cleanup is necessary and the results will ultimately be beneficial to Fort Edward and the surrounding area.

"I think the benefit is just overwhelming," Carpenter said. "There are the human health effects of simply living by the Hudson. That's a direct reflection of the contamination with PCBs that goes into the air from the contaminated parts of the river."

Those problems will be dramatically reduced, he said.

The banks of the upper Hudson River are dotted with small, decaying industrial towns.

Some people, like Riverkeeper's Alex Matthiessen, are hopeful that a cleaner river can become one contributor to the area's renaissance.

"In the 40 miles cleaned up, you have some revitalization for the communities along the river like Fort Edward and Schuylerville," said Matthiessen, the environmental group's president. "With the removal of a PCB-stained river, you'll see their property values go up, see an economic recovery."

But the cleanup won't cure all the economic ills of these industrial towns trying to market themselves in a new era.

"Let me make it clear that there are a lot of factors involved, but it may make it more possible that some of these communities will be unburdened by the end of this pollution," he said.

The 110-acre dewatering complex constructed by General Electric could play a part in the recovery.

Once the cleanup is finished, the company will remove any buildings or equipment with chemical contamination.

"It's impossible to say now which buildings," said Mark Behan, of Behan Communications and a spokesman for GE. "But what will remain are the roads,the rail line, the wharf, all of that infrastructure. What remains there in Fort Edward will be a pre-eminent industrial development site, one of the best-equipped sites in the Northeast."

While 2015 sounds like a long way off, it's not too early to think about the community's future, said Preston Gilbert, the operations director of the State University Center for Brownfield Studies at the College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry.

"We'll need every bit of six years to make it happen," Gilbert said. "What this site represents is the most well-equipped, the most technically advanced waterfront development site on the Hudson in probably 100 years."

Gilbert's vision for the site and the future of Fort Edward is an ambitious one. Earlier this month, he spoke before a group of local officials about an idea that could transform the region.

A food distribution center serving the 11 million people in New York City could be based at the site. Trains could ship in fresh produce from the west and north and the fresh food could be floated down the river via the Champlain Canal.

"The problem that exists in New York City over the last 40 years, as New York has become gentrified, all shipping has moved over to New Jersey," Gilbert said.

The many trains traveling under the river from New Jersey to Manhattan has created a logjam, and it would be a logistical nightmare and prohibitively expensive to build another rail line under the water, Gilbert said.

The solution could lie in Fort Edward's complex, once cleansed of PCB residue. The center could even be expanded to food processing and production -- helping local farmers sell their produce more effectively and transport it cheaply. The idea, developed by a group of students in the college's planning program, could create hundreds of stable jobs in the area, Gilbert said.

"It is very optimistic," he said. "We're in the very early stages. One can't help but think when you're looking at the problem with food distribution to New York, some sort of solution is needed."

What's needed now is for local officials to begin planning for the future.

"Step one is for the community to say this is an agenda that we have to follow," Gilbert said.

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SUNY Center for Brownfield Studies
Syracuse, NY 13210
(315) 470-4722

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