Mohawks Say EPA Alcoa-Superfund Cleanup Plan Falls Short

[node:summary]The EPA's proposed $243 million cleanup plan for the Alcoa Superfund site doesn't go far enough for the Mohawk Tribe.

The public comment period has ended for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) $243 million cleanup plan for the Grasse River Alcoa site in upstate New York, but the Mohawk Tribe is no happier with the proposal than when it was introduced in October 2012.

That was two months after New York Senator Charles Schumer urged the EPA last August to fast-track the cleanup of the old Alcoa site in Massena, in Mohawk territory. Though the river has been awaiting cleanup for 20-plus years, the only remediation recorded on the EPA website has been the 1995 removal of about 8,000 pounds of PCBs from the facility. 

Ten alternative cleanup methods were studied, ranging from spending no money but letting nature sort itself out at one extreme, to an option costing about $1 billion at the other, with Alcoa footing the bill. The one the EPA chose entails dredging some contaminated areas and capping others, according to the Watertown Daily Times. Several proposals fell within that $200 million to $300 million range. EPA spokesperson Larisa Romanowski told the Watertown Daily Times that the $243 million plan was chosen because it came closest to balancing the protection of human health with environmental considerations. 

But the plan does not sit well with the St. Regis Mohawks, who favor full dredging of a 7.2-mile stretch of the Grasse River, “everything along the banks to five feet in depth,” Environment Division Director Ken Jock told the Watertown Daily Times

“Capping is not a permanent remedy, and ice scour is a constant threat to any cap in the Grasse River,” Jock said, according to the newspaper. “Therefore we do not support the capping of the highly contaminated sediments in main channel. Nobody has any real-world evidence that a cap can withstand a major ice jam and ice scour.”

Moreover, the comment period, which ended in early December, was not enough for Mohawk peoples to get their concerns across, said Charles Kader, clerk of the men’s council of the People of the Way of the Longhouse, the Akwesasne branch of the Mohawks.

“The people I spoke to were not convinced the proposed project would be enough to get the river to an acceptable state,” he told the Watertown Daily Times. “It left the community unable to adequately explain that (the proposed project) will never do enough to clean up the site. I think two rounds of public comment at least would have been effective.”