Protecting Grasse River habitat in Massena

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos last week announced a landmark agreement (PDF) between DEC and Arconic, Inc.

Thew Associates

Under the agreement, Arconic will provide more than $2.25 million to protect and restore critical habitat at the Grasse River Federal Superfund site in Massena, NY.

Arconic is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up contamination in the Grasse River, but was not being held to New York State’s stringent standards for habitat protection, driving DEC to reach this agreement and help save critically important freshwater mussels and other natural resources.

The Alcoa Massena-West Plant (Alcoa West Facility) is an aluminum production plant on the north shore of the lower Grasse River. In the 1950s, Alcoa began using and discharging PCBs through outfalls to the Grasse River, contaminating water and sediment with PCBs.

The cleanup selected by EPA for the Grasse River began in 2019, and includes dredging and backfilling approximately four miles of shallow water habitat and capping approximately 6.5 miles of deep-water habitat with clean material.

During the cleanup selection process, DEC made it clear to EPA that specific habitat reconstruction requirements must be included to comply with New York’s stringent environmental laws and regulations.

Although EPA stated in the Record of Decision (ROD) that the remedy must meet these requirements, the federal environmental agency failed to incorporate DEC’s requests and, in 2019, approved a cleanup that did not incorporate the State’s habitat reconstruction requirements.

At that point, DEC notified Arconic that the remedy as designed did not comply with state laws and regulations and started its effort to address these deficiencies.

The final settlement (PDF) announced last week provides $2.25 million to DEC for mussel relocation activities.

DEC and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT) work daily with EPA on the oversight of the ongoing federal Superfund cleanup.

Along with the New York State Department of Health, the agencies monitor air, water, and residual sediment to help ensure that the dredging of contaminated sediments and capping of the main channel are implemented in a safe and effective manner.

Cultural resource investigations, fish contaminant monitoring, and other habitat reconstruction efforts are also part of the overall remedial project.