Dredging

The Milwaukee Model: An Intersection of Great Lakes Restoration and Workforce Development

By Chris Litzau

I attended several sessions at the Great Lakes Areas of Concern Conference in Milwaukee this year that generated spirited discussions about growing jobs with Great Lakes clean up and restoration funds.

For example, in Milwaukee, an environmental engineering firm partnered with local brownfield remediation job training and certification programs for disadvantaged young adults, to place training participants at the Kinnickinnic (KK) River sediment dredging project. I was impressed with the commitment made by the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) and its contractor to permit trained and certified trainees to shadow and assist with the monitoring and oversight of the dredging project. The model was replicated at a subsequent PCB dredging project in Milwaukee’s Area of Concern, and led to the involvement and eventual hiring of dozens of training participants at water quality improvement, conservation and remediation projects throughout the region.

During the dredging projects, training participants interned at the site with GLNPO’s contractor. All participants completed the EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) Program, which was funded with an EPA grant. By attending the training program, participants acquired the necessary Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 40-hour Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) certification. The certification was a prerequisite for the trainees to be able to participate in the project.

It’s clear to me that the successes of the young adults – and the efforts of EPA and contractor staff – established a model for other clean up and restoration projects. Several workforce development programs such as the program that supported the Milwaukee Model are located within AOCs or near rivers, lakes, reservoirs and other bodies of water. I believe that these programs also offer a pipeline of young adults who can assist and learn at water quality treatment, improvement and remediation projects during future grants.

I think that the Milwaukee dredging project clearly demonstrates that consultants and contractors are able to cultivate knowledge and technical skills among a population of disadvantaged young adults, and – through the process – grow the future workforce. The KK River project in Milwaukee is proof that the Great Lakes Legacy Act combined with the EWDJT Program can stimulate the economy with a ripple effect that makes a lasting impact on the physical landscape and social fabric of the community.

About the author: Chris Litzau served as the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Community Service Corps for 12 years before recently leaving the organization to grow the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps (Great Lakes CCC) into a regional job training and education program.  The mission of the Great Lakes CCC is to leverage resources among Great Lakes communities to train and educate disadvantaged populations for credentials that close the skills gap, improve water quality, build habitat, grow the legacy of the original Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and make the region more competitive in the global economy.  In 1998, Mr. Litzau administered one of the first 10 grants awarded by the EPA through its nascent Brownfield Job Training Program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Phase 1 of Hudson River Dredging Nears Completion

go to EPA's Hudson cleanup site
In 2009 dredging began in the Upper Hudson River to remove sediments with PCBs. Read more.

The last five months of my life have probably been some of the busiest I’ve ever experienced. Since the project began May 15, I’ve watched more than 240,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment being removed from the Upper Hudson River in the area of Fort Edward, NY, and there was never a dull moment. The actual dredging was kind of hypnotic, but all of the contentious public meetings, media attention, outreach events, and requests for information and tours kept me on my toes.

Now it is early October, and I’m starting to catch my breath again. The dredging is winding down and most of the project vessels will be out of the water by mid-November. We can only dredge from May to November each year because the project’s dewatering facility is located on the Champlain Canal which only operates during those months.

Just to recap how we did, dredging crews worked in 10 of 18 designated areas around Roger’s Island and near Griffen Island in the Upper Hudson. While crews did not dredge in eight areas they originally planned to complete, they removed as much contaminated sediment in the 10 areas they worked in as they expected to remove from all 18 areas. Dredge engineers encountered approximately 100,000 cubic yards of additional, contaminated logging debris attributable to the historical Adirondack logging trade and a timber dam that was removed in the early 1970s. Dredging this additional debris, and finding contamination at levels much deeper than anticipated, kept the crews from working in the other eight areas. These eight areas will be the starting point for dredging in phase two of the project.

During the winter of 2009, a peer review panel of independent dredging experts will convene to look at all of the production and monitoring data generated during Phase 1. This group will make recommendations to EPA and General Electric about changes that can be incorporated for phase two, so the project will be even more efficient and effective. The project review, completion of the final design for phase two, a public comment period, as well as any new construction that might be necessary at the dewatering facility, will take place in 2010. Therefore, the next opportunity to resume dredging will be May of 2011.

I’m looking forward to a slower pace of life this winter and next year, but I know the review process and the subsequent EPA and General Electric coordination will require a lot of public interaction and outreach. Happily, I’ll also look for opportunities to discuss the substantial progress we made during this first phase of this epic journey to clean up the Hudson River.

About the author: Kristen Skopeck is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She is an 11-year Air Force veteran and was stationed in California, Ohio, Texas, Portugal, and New York. After working for the USDA for three years, Kristen joined EPA in 2007 and moved to Glens Falls, NY to be a member of the Hudson River PCB dredging project team. She likes to spend her time reading, writing, watching movies, walking, and meeting new people.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Dredging Project Will Be A Load – And Stress – Reliever

Recently, EPA was asked to defend the fact that dredging stirs up PCBs in the river, which causes more PCBs to go downriver and over the Federal dam in Troy. This is called “loading,” and we monitor it closely. If you live south of Albany, I’m sure you appreciate that we try not to send any more PCBs your way than we have to in order to get this work done.

The river bottom doesn’t keep the PCBs locked safely inside a mud sandwich. This river scours, floods and changes its course. So loading of PCB’s was always a problem. .It’s impossible to know for sure, but engineers estimate about 500 pounds of PCBs a year were loaded in the past. Now, because of dredging, we actually know the PCB levels in the river, and we know there’s much more contamination than we estimated, so the loading was probably more too. However, by dredging we’re finally doing something to lower the PCB levels, forever. I get a lot of satisfaction watching each loaded barge, because I know that contaminated sediment is no longer contributing to the problem.

Dredging opponents point out that the monitoring station nearest the dredging, and another about 18 miles away, have exceeded the PCB loading amount targeted for this year and so the project should stop. We explained the load target represents an overall requirement for the project and not for a single year. The higher loads during this dredge season will be addressed through lessons learned and improvements recommended for future dredging.

I’m a newcomer to Fort Edward and the dredging debate. Having never lived near a river before, I didn’t understand how important a river can be in people’s lives. Since moving here, I’ve spent hours and hours talking to people who are personally and, in some cases emotionally affected by the project. I‘m very sympathetic — they didn’t create the horrendous pollution problem, but they’ve been forced to deal with it for years, and it’s taken a stressful toll. I’ve spent countless hours on the river thinking about the far-reaching consequences of the PCB contamination. After five months of dredging, I’ve learned firsthand how persistent, shallow, mobile and voluminous the PCBs are in the Upper Hudson. But, as of September 5, there are about 190,000 cubic yards less of contaminated sediment contributing to the stress and loading problems, and I’m proud to be part of the monumental effort that made that happen. As intrusive and irritating as the project is for some people, it’s very important for the safety and sanity of future generations.

About the author: Kristen Skopeck is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She is an 11-year Air Force veteran and was stationed in California, Ohio, Texas, Portugal, and New York. After working for the USDA for three years, Kristen joined EPA in 2007 and moved to Glens Falls, NY to be a member of the Hudson River PCB dredging project team. She likes to spend her time reading, writing, watching movies, walking, and meeting new people.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Dredging Challenges Contribute to Spikes in Air and Water Monitoring

go to EPA's Hudson cleanup site
In 2009 dredging began in the Upper Hudson River to remove sediments with PCBs. Read more.

Last week, media who routinely cover the Hudson dredging project ran several stories about increased PCB levels recorded by EPA for both water and air monitoring. Be assured, water and air quality are being closely monitored, and EPA is working with the New York State Department of Health to ensure there are no immediate risks to people’s health. People can track the monitoring at www.hudsondredgingdata.com. I thought I would take this edition of the blog to clarify what happened on the river last week and tell you what was done about it.

Since the beginning of the project, dredging has taken place around Roger’s Island, one of the most heavily contaminated areas of the river and one of the most complex areas to dredge, due to physical conditions such as shallow water depths and a river bottom of uneven bedrock. We’ve found sediment in this area contains very high levels of PCBs mixed with a tremendous amount of small debris (i.e. tree limbs, etc.). In addition, since May 15, more and more dredges have been added throughout the six-mile project location, and we are nearly operating at full capacity (12 dredges, 18 barges and 18 tugboats).

Last week, when GE staged several dredges in a particularly contaminated area, the monitoring numbers began to elevate. Levels of PCBs in the water were measured as high as 514 parts per trillion at the first monitoring station (located near Thompson Island) on Saturday, August 2, which is above the drinking water standard of 500 ppt. At the same time, the river had started to rise and the flows were starting to exceed the safety level of 10,000 cubic feet per second, so the dredging was halted.

If PCB levels reach the drinking water standard, and are confirmed by two subsequent lab samples, any dredging activities that may have caused the exceedance will be halted until EPA is satisfied that the proper changes have been put into place to lower the levels. The two follow-up water samples came back below the drinking water standard, so EPA determined there had been a spike in the PCB levels, and it was probably because of the combination of dredging and high river flows from recent rain events. After that determination, EPA told GE it was okay to dredge again, once the river flows decreased to less than 10,000 cubic feet per second. As of Monday evening, August 3, the dredging had resumed. Additional water samples have been taken at Thompson Island and are all below the drinking water standard, and samples taken further downriver are well below the standard. Those results can be found at www.hudsondredgingdata.com .

The air standards are equally protective. The standard for exposure for PCBs in the air in residential areas, for instance, is based on levels that would be acceptable for a child under the age of six to breathe 24 hours a day for 365 days a year for six years. If that standard is exceeded, EPA and New York State investigate, and GE is directed to take actions to decrease the levels and provide sampling results faster to help identify the cause of the spikes.

So what actions were taken – we determined the combination of too many dredges in a heavily contaminated area and the release of vapors from barges loaded with contaminated sediment drying out in the sun were key contributors to the monitoring spikes. As a corrective measure EPA has now required that dredging be scaled back in the highly contaminated area around Roger’s Island and that the barges with high concentrations of PCBs are loaded evenly, that they are kept wet to prevent PCBs from evaporating into the air, and that they are immediately off-loaded into an enclosed storage structure at the dewatering facility. These measures have worked to dramatically reduced levels of PCBs in the air and the water.
About the author: Kristen Skopeck is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She is an 11-year Air Force veteran and was stationed in California, Ohio, Texas, Portugal, and New York. After working for the USDA for three years, Kristen joined EPA in 2007 and moved to Glens Falls, NY to be a member of the Hudson River PCB dredging project team. She likes to spend her time reading, writing, watching movies, walking, and meeting new people.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

What Is Happening With The Sediment Being Dredged From The Hudson River?

go to EPA's Hudson cleanup site
In 2009 dredging began in the Upper Hudson River to remove sediments with PCBs. Read more.

I was viewing the dredging from the Fort Edward yacht basin with many curious onlookers recently, and people wanted to know what would become of the PCB-laden dirt and debris.

I told them the barge in front of us was nearly filled to capacity and would soon be moved by tugboat to a processing facility. A 110-acre facility specially constructed on the Champlain Canal between Locks 7 and 8 in Fort Edward is the sole processing facility for the project’s dredged material. There, the sediment and debris is sorted to remove remaining sand, sticks, silt and rocks (anything larger than 5/8 of an inch in diameter is separated from smaller material). Water is added to the remaining PCB-laden dirt to create slurry and to help move the material through pipes to 12 specially manufactured filter presses housed inside a sediment dewatering building. The presses squeeze the slurry to remove the water, and the water goes to a water-treatment plant to be cleaned to drinking-water standards before being returned to the Champlain Canal. The material remaining is called “filter cake.” The cake is then placed inside impervious liners inside railcars that make up 81-car trains. These trains leave the area every few days on their way to a licensed disposal facility in Andrews, Texas.

Right now, as the flow of the river allows, dredging operations are taking place 24 hours a day, six days a week, (Sundays are reserved for contingencies and maintenance) and sediment and water treatment are taking place around the clock, seven days a week. The project has 450 dedicated railcars continuously looped between here and the disposal facility. More information about this project can be found at the following websites: www.epa.gov/hudson/ and www.hudsondredging.com/.

About the author: Kristen Skopeck is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She is an 11-year Air Force veteran and was stationed in California, Ohio, Texas, Portugal, and New York. After working for the USDA for three years, Kristen joined EPA in 2007 and moved to Glens Falls, NY to be a member of the Hudson River PCB dredging project team. She likes to spend her time reading, writing, watching movies, walking, and meeting new people.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Clamshell Buckets? Are they the Right Choice for the Project?

go to EPA's Hudson cleanup site
In 2009 dredging began in the Upper Hudson River to remove sediments with PCBs. Read more.

I’ve had many people ask me why the dredging is being performed with environmental clamshell buckets instead of using the hydraulic (with a hose and suction) method. These people point to the fact the clamshells are encountering a large volume of logs, sticks and wood shavings, which prohibit the jaws of the buckets from closing tightly and cause water to spill out as the buckets are raised from the river bottom.

Interestingly, that copious river debris (a casualty of the Adirondack logging trade) is one of the main reasons hydraulic dredging wouldn’t work well for this project. That debris – and the rocky nature of the river bottom – would clog hoses and greatly hinder dredging progress. Furthermore, the project spans 40 miles, so using hydraulic dredges would require an extensive infrastructure of pipeline and pump stations up and down the river corridor. But the most important factor is that engineers determined the resuspension of sediment is nearly the same using either method of dredging. Resuspension occurs when the river bottom is disturbed and dirt (in this case dirt with PCBs clinging to it) gets churned up. When this happens, the water-born sediments float downstream, so keeping resuspension to a minimum is an important project goal.

It is important to remember that PCB-tainted sediment dropping out of the clamshells typically settles to the bottom in a relatively short distance and gets removed in subsequent passes of the dredge. Moreover, PCB levels during all dredging operations are closely and continuously monitored to ensure compliance with EPA’s resuspension standard. And, so far, the monitoring has shown the sediment resuspension hasn’t caused an the drinking water standard for PCBs to be exceeded, and the first monitor is only one mile downstream of the dredging. Information about the monitoring for the project can be found at this site: www.hudsondredgingdata.com/. All things considered, the decision to use clamshell buckets was the right one.

About the author: Kristen Skopeck is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She is an 11-year Air Force veteran and was stationed in California, Ohio, Texas, Portugal, and New York. After working for the USDA for three years, Kristen joined EPA in 2007 and moved to Glens Falls, NY to be a member of the Hudson River PCB dredging project team. She likes to spend her time reading, writing, watching movies, walking, and meeting new people.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Tale of Two Phases

go to EPA's Hudson cleanup site
In 2009 dredging began in the Upper Hudson River to remove sediments with PCBs. Read more.

Phase 1 of the Hudson River dredging project provides a chance to evaluate whether the equipment and methods being used are adequate to meet the project’s cleanup goals. This phase is underway and will continue until the beginning of November. So far, dredging has removed more than 16,000 cubic yards of the river bottom. You can follow the project’s productivity at the following website: www.hudsondredgingdata.com/

That website also provides information about the various types of monitoring being done to ensure the project is performed in a way that is protective of human health and the environment.

The design elements to be scrutinized during Phase 1 include the equipment selected for dredging sediment and transporting dredged materials to the sediment processing facility, PCB resuspension control and monitoring equipment, the processes and equipment used for dewatering and stabilizing the dredged material and for treating water generated during sediment processing, the rail infrastructure designed for transport of processed dredged materials to the final disposal location in Texas, and the methods and equipment used to backfill dredged areas and, in certain areas, to reconstruct habitat. EPA will be watching all of these project components closely.

At the end of Phase 1 dredging and prior to the start of Phase 2 dredging, EPA and an independent scientific panel will separately evaluate the project to determine whether the dredging design or dredging operations should be modified for the final phase. If all goes according to plan the entire project will be complete by November of 2015.

About the author: Kristen Skopeck is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She is an 11-year Air Force veteran and was stationed in California, Ohio, Texas, Portugal, and New York. After working for the USDA for three years, Kristen joined EPA in 2007 and moved to Glens Falls, NY to be a member of the Hudson River PCB dredging project team. She likes to spend her time reading, writing, watching movies, walking, and meeting new people.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

You Can Still Enjoy the River During Dredging

go to EPA's Hudson cleanup site
In 2009 dredging began in the Upper Hudson River to remove sediments with PCBs. Read more

With the formidable, 40-mile-long Hudson River dredging project underway, some people may have the idea that the river is off limits for recreation, but this isn’t the case. Granted there are a lot of project vessels on the water, especially around Rogers Island in Fort Edward, but by taking basic precautions for safety, people can use the river in all the ways they have in the past. As a matter of fact, the flurry of activity involves a lot of neat construction equipment, and people can visit the yacht basin in Fort Edward to see the dredging up close and personal.

To scoop the 400,000 tons of sediment (more than 94 acres) targeted this year, GE has mobilized an armada of equipment, including 11 dredges, 17 tugboats, 20 barges, and more than 400 rail cars, as well as skiffs, cranes and other machinery. At peak dredging during July and August, as many as 80 to 90 vessels are expected to be in the river each day. That’s a lot of water traffic congestion in a relatively narrow section of the Upper Hudson, but the river remains navigable by commercial and recreational boaters and open to water skiers, kayakers, swimmers, and anglers.

Boaters traveling in areas where dredging is being performed are being asked to avoid work areas, which are marked by buoys. New York State Canal Corporation regularly posts project information for boaters on their website. EPA and the New York State Department of Health representatives have been telling people recreational activities such as swimming and water skiing are acceptable during dredging, but individuals should try to avoid the immediate areas where dredging is being performed to minimize the potential for exposure. Also, people are being reminded to wash off after going in the water, not just because of PCBs, but because unfiltered river water is known to contain bacteria, viruses and other “bugs” that can make people sick. People are surprised to learn that they can still swim in the river with the project going on, but the main risk of exposure to PCBs at dangerous levels is through eating contaminated fish — and, for now, fish are strictly for catch and release in the Upper Hudson.

About the author: Kristen Skopeck is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She is an 11-year Air Force veteran and was stationed in California, Ohio, Texas, Portugal, and New York. After working for the USDA for three years, Kristen joined EPA in 2007 and moved to Glens Falls, NY to be a member of the Hudson River PCB dredging project team. She likes to spend her time reading, writing, watching movies, walking, and meeting new people.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

An Historic Day for the Hudson

About the author: Kristen Skopeck is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She is an 11-year Air Force veteran and was stationed in California, Ohio, Texas, Portugal, and New York. After working for the USDA for three years, Kristen joined EPA in 2007 and moved to Glens Falls, NY to be a member of the Hudson River PCB dredging project team. She likes to spend her time reading, writing, watching movies, walking, and meeting new people.

go to EPA's Hudson cleanup site
In 2009 dredging began in the Upper Hudson River to remove sediments with PCBs. Read more.

Thousands of hours of planning and investigation culminated in the first dredge bucket being lowered into the Upper Hudson River on May 15, 2009. I was there to watch a diverse crowd, many with Cheshire Cat grins and some more dubious, take in the scene, as a bright blue dredge bucket slowly lowered into the water and pulled up a bucketful of PCB-laden muck. Also watching were reporters from many media outlets, and even a group of journalism students, all armed with cameras and itching for interviews. Everyone there was reminded of the 30-plus years of wrangling between EPA, General Electric, environmental groups, and citizens that led up to this historic day.

The 40-miles of the Upper Hudson between Fort Edward and Troy, New York contain thousands of pounds of a potentially cancer-causing chemical called polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The entire dredging project targets the removal of about 248,600 pounds of PCBs that EPA scientists know are situated in the river in a way that is having a toxic impact on fish. They know because they have studied more than 50,000 sediment samples taken in a polka dot pattern across the 40 miles. Incidentally, they found some pockets of PCBs are buried deeply and shouldn’t be disturbed, but the places being targeted are relatively shallow (many between six inches and three feet) and have to come out.

As the Community Involvement Coordinator on the project, I am the affected peoples’ advocate. It is important to me that people understand how the project is being orchestrated and that EPA’s oversight will ensure it is done in a safe and efficient manner. One of the tools I’ll be using to do so is this blog. I’ll update it regularly, and I’ll invite other project members to join in the dialogue, so we can relate what is happening on the project in a timely, unfiltered way. If you have any specific questions please email me at skopeck.kristen@epa.gov.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.