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Part of the 7.2 mile contaminated stretch of the Grasse. Photo: David Sommerstein
Part of the 7.2 mile contaminated stretch of the Grasse. Photo: David Sommerstein

Mohawks rip EPA's Grasse River cleanup plan

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Update: The EPA released its final plan for the Alcoa Grasse River cleanup late this morning. More information is at The Inbox.

Just ahead of the release of a plan to clean up toxic chemicals from the Grasse River near Massena, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe blasted federal officials for putting the economy ahead of the environment.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

In press release sent late Thursday, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe said the Environmental Protection Agency plans to announce today that Alcoa will be responsible for a cheaper, $245 million cleanup plan for the Grasse River.

The EPA was not available to confirm the news.

Alcoa dumped cancer-causing PCBs in the river until they were banned in the 1970s.

In a strongly worded statement, Chief Ron LaFrance chastised the EPA for allowing "industrial pollution perpetrators" to "continue to violate the environment with little or no conscience."

If the release is correct, the cleanup plan would include dredging seven miles of shoreline of PCBs. And it would put a cap on chemicals buried in the main channel of the river, not remove them.

But an ice jam scoured away a similar trial cap in 2003. Ken Jock of the tribe's environment division said the cap would leave 93 percent of contaminants in place. He said the EPA has "never sufficiently justified" the capping plan. The EPA estimates removing those chemicals from the main channel would cost more than $1 billion.

Word of the EPA's impending decision comes less than a week after Alcoa said it would commit to providing 900 jobs at its plant in Massena long-term – if the EPA approves this more modest cleanup plan.

Senator Chuck Schumer visited the plant on Monday to urge the EPA to sign off.

"You don't want a decision where you say the environment is the only thing taken into account. You have to 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."

In a statement last night, Schumer said if it becomes official, the EPA's decision would be "a shot in the arm" for the North Country.

Mohawk chief Ron LaFrance said in his statement that "jobs won out over the health of [his] people".

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