Arconic, DEC partner to protect river habitat

Barges on the Grasse River are involved in the Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup of polluted sediment. Arconic has agreed to make available $2.25 million to relocate freshwater mussels. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — The state Department of Environmental Conservation has announced an agreement between DEC and Arconic, Inc. that states that Arconic will provide more than $2.25 million to protect and restore critical habitat at the Grasse River Federal Superfund site in Massena.

Arconic is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contamination in the Grasse River but was not being held to New York state’s stringent standards for habitat protection.

This agreement the DEC said in a press release will help save critically important freshwater mussels and other natural resources.

“The Grasse River provides habitat for this area’s renowned bass, walleye, and Muskie populations and hosts an impressive diversity of freshwater mussel species whose long-term viability would have been jeopardized by U.S. EPA’s cleanup plans,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in the release. “New York State stepped up to reach this agreement with Arconic when EPA refused. As a result, hundreds of thousands of freshwater mussels and Grasse River ecosystems that depend on them will be protected.”

The Alcoa Massena-West Plant 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. The DEC reports that the final plans instituted by the EPA did not meet its 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 provides $2.25 million to DEC for mussel relocation activities. It also requires Arconic to fund contract divers to assist DEC and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe with mussel salvage operations.

Above and beyond the payment and funding the diving operation Arconic agreed to incorporate more suitable habitat material to promote success in relocating mussels after the river bottom is capped, install 400 structures in the bottom of the river for suitable fish habitat, and restore several wetland areas along the river with higher grade materials and native plants.

Arconic will also provide its own divers to recover additional freshwater mussels.

“This Arconic agreement is an important milestone in recognizing the significance of freshwater mussels in the Grasse River,” said Jessica L. Jock, SRMT Remediation and Restoration Program Manager.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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