EPA: Habitat restoration along Hudson River Superfund site lagging

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday said habitat restoration of the Hudson River has been slower than expected following General Electric Co.'s dredging. Above: Plants are placed along the river's shoreline following dredging. Courtesy ph

Posted June 2, 2020

Habitat restoration along the Hudson River Superfund site has been slower than expected, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.

Semi-aquatic and sub-aquatic vegetation planted along the 40-mile stretch of the river between Hudson Falls and the Troy dam after General Electric Co. completed dredging for PCBs have struggled to properly take root, Gary Klawinski, the EPA’s director of the Superfund site, told members of the site’s Community Advisory Group during a virtual meeting.

Thursday’s meeting of the CAG, which was created in late 2003 to give communities along the 200-mile site a greater voice in the cleanup process, was held via Zoom because of social distancing restrictions in place because of the pandemic.

“Where we’re having challenges right now is in the river fringing wetland area. ... And then the plants that are sub-aquatic, that are below the water, there’s some challenges we have there,” Klawinski said.

The EPA and the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation have been monitoring how newly planted vegetation has been growing since GE was instructed to begin habitat restoration work in 2016, a year after dredging operations were completed.

GE has been tasked with cleaning the river and restoring its natural habitat after it was discovered the company dumped more than 1.3 million pounds of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, from its capacitor manufacturing plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward in the 30 years proceeding the late 1970s. The chemicals are believed to be carcinogenic.

Half of the areas where vegetation was planted are failing to meet their benchmarks, said David Tromp, an engineer with DEC.

“We look forward to trying to get them to the goal,” he said.

A number of factors could play a role in the vegetation failing to take hold, Klawinski said.

Among them are the amount of sunlight plants get, fluctuating water levels, boat wakes and a natural decline of plant life in the region.

To address the issue, the EPA, along with DEC and GE, put into place a number of pilot studies last year, which included different types of plants and examining the riverbed in areas where vegetation has struggled to take root.

“We don’t want to keep doing what we were doing before, which in some areas wasn’t working,” Klawinski said.

Using the data collected last year, GE will begin sowing seeds along the river for the next two years before the issue is re-examined again in 2022, Klawinski said.

The EPA is also looking into whether there is a natural decline of certain vegetation in the region and what kind of role riverbed conditions may be playing.

Klawinski said there has been vegetation found in dredged portions of the river where no plant beds were seeded.

“We need to account for how these beds expand and move,” he said.

The EPA will also be utilizing biosonics, which rely on ultrasonic frequencies, to track plant life for the first time this year.

Previously, the organization relied solely on visuals from an underwater camera that was dragged behind a boat to determine where a plant bed started and ended.

How seeds are planted is also being looked into, Klawinski said.

Currently, a buoy system is utilized to plant sub-aquatic plants, but other methods are being discussed, including adding weights to seeds, Klawinski said.

“We’ve got this step-wise process where we’re going to try to increase our monitoring, increase our level of effort, work more closely ... with DEC and their consultants and try to get in the field together with GE’s experts and try to bring this to a better place,” Klawinski said.

Source: poststar