Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Grasse River Remediation Project Meetings


Last week the Environmental Protection Agency held two meetings on the Grasse River Remediation Project Update. The meetings were held in Massena on Tuesday, May 9 at the Massena Town Hall and in Akwesasne on May 10, 2017 at the Seniors Center. The meetings provided interested and concerned residents with an overview of the planned 2017 construction of the ‘land-based support facility’. The land-based support facility will support future in-river work for the Grasse River Remediation Project. This support facility will be located near the intersection of County Route 42 and Route 131. The estimated overall cost of the Grasse River Superfund site is $243 million dollars.

Once the land-based support facility is completed, it will be used to unload sediments dredged from the near-shore areas and later in-river areas identified as contaminated with PCB’s. This area will also load clean capping and backfilled materials that will be placed in the river during the in-water portion of the project. Actual dredging of the Grasse River will start in 2018.

As part of this project, Arconic (formerly Alcoa Inc.) Massena West will expand the secure landfill on its property to safely store the dredged material from the Grasse River. This landfill was used in the past for disposal of sediments from the Grasse River and according to EPA, ‘safely designed to contain dredged sediments.’ Expansion of the secure landfill is scheduled to start this spring and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is the lead agency for this particular project.

They also plan to clear and grade the staging area, install a water transfer line and construct a docking facility along the river front. They also plan to remove a small amount of sediment along the shoreline next to the staging area.

The final design for the in-river portion is incomplete at this time. The plan is still under development and no start date has been determined yet. According to EPA, the ‘in-river dredging’ will ‘hopefully start in 2019’. The actual clean up of a 7.2 mile stretch of the Grasse River will consist of ‘dredging approximately 109,00 cubic yards of sediment from near-shore areas of the river’. Approximately 59 acres of sediment will be covered with an armored cap in the river’s main channel. Another 225 acres (approximate estimation) of contaminated sediment will be capped with a mix of ‘clean sand and topsoil to isolate the contamination from the surrounding environment.’

According to the presentations, “plans to protect the health and safety of the workers and area communities are in place. The air and river will be monitored during the work’. They urge residents and boaters to use caution during construction and the actual clean up and they don’t expect construction to impact recreational boating on the Grasse River.

The Massena meeting held on May 9, 2017 was well attended by concerned residents along the Grasse River and other Massena community members. They questioned the air quality monitoring plan (five identified sites including two mobile sites), the levels of accepted and raised PCB’s levels (1ppm), the current condition of the river and types of fish in the river, the depth of the river during construction (minimal change in depth), how long this will take (four years to complete the first stage), and is swimming allowed. While swimming is not prohibited and no legal statement has been made they advise swimmers to use caution and to shower after swimming, not to touch sediment or to swim along the identified shoreline areas to be dredged.

Currently, there is a total ban on consuming any species of fish from the Grasse River. This ban is will likely remain in place for at least until the year 2027. Questions were also raised on the endangered Atlantic Sturgeon, small mouth bass and bullhead, all three species have been part of long term studies completed by DEC, compiling twenty years of data. Despite request from community members from Massena and Akwesasne, DEC has not conducted any studies on walleye and have no plans to do so.

The monitoring of the Grasse River Remediation and the secure landfill that will house the contaminated soil dredged from the Grasse River will be responsibility of Arconic, forever, in perpetuity. Arconic is also performing all remediation work.

The questions and comments made in Akwesasne’s May10th meeting were, as expected, more passionate and personal. PCB’s, the term, the talk, the tests and the studies have become a way of life in Akwesasne.

In the early 1980’s, PCB’s were detected in the Saint Lawrence River water life and finally exposed to the public – Akwesasne. From there, virtually everyone’s life changed directly and indirectly because of this. Fish consumption advisories were issued; people stopped gardening, cattle died and small farms closed, businesses shut down and Akwesasronon started getting cancer.

During the meeting, many questions were raised and stories told, from personal stories of surviving cancer to living in a ‘cancer cluster’ - formerly industrialized zone, to the talk of ‘Forever’. One community member asked the panel of representatives from EPA, DEC, SRMT, GRRP, DOH and Arconic what they meant when they often used the word ‘forever’ and ‘in perpetuity’ when describing certain elements of this entire project. He questioned if they really understood the term and expressed what forever means to us. He also opened the meeting with the Ohenton Karihwatehkwen, setting the tone of the meeting and reminding all of us of who we are.

Questions were also raised on air quality monitoring, what is the shut-down level (.05 in Akwesasne), future testing for Akwesasne residents (DOH would conduct this), communication signs along the river, precautions taken for workers, and 24 hours versus real time monitoring.

Tribal Chief Ron Lafrance went on the record as saying; “I am not happy with the Record of Decision. The SRMT is opposed to this, simply having this capped will not secure a clean river. We will never accept anything less than a complete and total clean up.”

Akwesasne community residents expressed fear, anxiety, and being terrified of what we can expect now and in the future.

In sharing stories and asking questions, community members ultimately wanted the panel to understand the gravity of the lifestyle changes we have had to make that has touched virtually every facet of our lives; our food, our natural medicines, our babies. Our Culture.

In closing, the panel expressed they will hold monthly meetings, alternating between Massena and Akwesasne. We share many of the same concerns.

A statement was made word for word in both meetings, “My grandfather used to fish in the Grasse River, my father did, and I fished there as well. And now, my son can’t fish there. We used to eat fish everyday.”

Akwesasne, and Massena now share a common and unwanted bond of ‘forever’ being nestled in a Superfund site.


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