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Senator Charles Schumer with workers at the Alcoa East facility on April 1, 2013. Photo: Julie Grant
Senator Charles Schumer with workers at the Alcoa East facility on April 1, 2013. Photo: Julie Grant

Schumer calls on EPA to finalize Alcoa clean-up cost

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U.S. Senator Charles Schumer visited the Alcoa East plant in Massena Monday. He came to announce that the aluminum-maker is prepared to start the first phase of a $600 million modernization plan, that will secure 900 jobs in Massena.

But there's still a catch. Before Alcoa begins construction, it wants a price tag on clean up the Grasse River. The company previously polluted the river.

Schumer used his speech to call on the Environmental Protection Agency to approve a final cost of the clean up, so Alcoa can move forward.

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

State and local officials and union leaders milled around at the Alcoa East facility on Monday, waiting for Sen. Schumer to arrive. There was some excitement in the air. Alcoa plans to invest $52 million in the next couple of years - $42-million toward construction of a new potline at the Massena East plant, and $10 million toward economic development in the region.

"This is great news for the community."

Patricia Wilson is deputy mayor of the village of Massena. She stood at the plant with 80-year-old village trustee Herb Deshaies. He says there's one reason the Alcoa project is so important.

"Jobs. Jobs is the name of the game."

Massena is not accustomed to good news on the job front in recent years. It used to be a big factory town. Reynolds Metals, and General Motors had plants here, in addition to Alcoa.

"My father worked there. I worked there, and all my brothers worked there, for a while. Then I ended up working for the telephone company. We've got to keep Alcoa here. We've got to have it. If not, we're going down the tubes."

Deshaies says his own children had to move away from Massena. There wasn't enough work. In recent years, aluminum operations have downsized. And GM closed its plant, which meant a loss of 500 jobs.

"It's bad enough we lost General Motors. We've got to make sure this is coming to fruition."

When Senator Schumer stepped to the podium, he explained why there's so much concern about finalizing the Alcoa deal.

"The ball is on the five-yard line. And all of us have to push it over, so we can score a touchdown for Alcoa and the North Country. And not only preserve jobs, but create many new jobs."

Alcoa is responsible for contaminating the Grasse River with cancer-causing PCBs in the 1950s and '60s. Schumer says there are still a few yards to go because the company won't finalize the deal until it gets a price tag for clean-up of the Grasse River. That's in the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Alcoa would not comment about it. But Schumer says the company has limits on the amount it will invest in Massena and the Grasse River. Alcoa told him:

"We want to invest in this plant and upgrade it. But we only have a certain amount of money. And we have to put all of the money into the cleanup of the river, and doing the environmental cleanup, we don't have enough money to invest in the plant."

Schumer says the EPA has proposed one plan that would cost $245 million, and Alcoa has agreed to that.

"Today, I am urging the EPA to issue that Record of Decision. To support their plan, and get it done fast. I'd like them to get it done in April. Today is April first. And I'm not fooling."

The EPA laid out a number of options last fall for cleanup. Some of those would cost much more than $245 million. In a written statement to NPCR, the agency said it is considering public comments on those options. It's also consulting state environmental and health officials, and the St. Regis Mohawks.

The tribe wouldn't comment for this story. Last fall, the Mohawks said the EPA's plan to cap contamination in the river isn't enough. They praised a proposal to dredge more than seven miles of the riverbank.

Schumer says if clean-up costs are too high Alcoa could walk away from the plant modernization deal.

"You don't want a decision where you say the environment is the only thing taken into account. You have take into account cleaning up the environment for sure, that's the law. But you have to take into account all the other factors too."

The EPA says it expects to have a final cleanup plan soon.

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