Dredges, pushboats get to work as Hudson River Superfund project starts

After 25 years of studies and delays, dredging has begun on the Hudson River's contaminated Superfund site. Eighty vessels are on the job, creating work for hundreds of mariners and related businesses.

General Electric Co. (GE) started the dredging May 15. To meet government guidelines, the Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate is attempting to remove PCB-contaminated sediment resulting from discharges from the 1940s to 1977.

An aerial view of pushboats and barges in the Hudson River PCB dredging project at Fort Edward, N.Y.

GE has assembled personnel and equipment to remove the remains of an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, that were legally piped into the river from two upstate New York production plants. Dredging crews work two 12-hour shifts, six days a week. Sundays are reserved for maintenance.

"We are in the dredging ramp-up period and in the process of removing debris and tree trimming along the shorelines to get the equipment into the shore areas where we have the dredge," GE spokesman Mark Behan said in June. "At the peak of activity in July there will be 80 or 90 vessels including the dredges, tugs, barges and then all the oversight boats from state and federal agencies in the river at different times on a regular basis."

Cashman Dredging & Marine Contracting Co., based in Quincy, Mass., is performing the dredging work in the upper Hudson.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified specific contaminated sites, and 400,000 tons of sediment are to be removed in the first year of the multi-year project. Flat deck dredge barges with the dredging excavators are positioned and remain anchored in place at a site until the contaminated mud is removed, the area is tested and clean sand fill is lowered to replace the mud. The dredged materials are loaded into 195-foot by 35-foot mud barges and moved by pushboats through Lock 7 on the Champlain Canal to the newly built mud processing facility one mile upstream from the present dredging locations. At peak operating times, GE expects 20 one-way tug and mud barge movements through the lock daily.

GE's 17 pushboats are the key to both move the mud barges and position the dredge barges. GE ordered the pushboats from Marine Inland Fabricators in Panama City, Fla., and deliveries were completed May 1.

The two-person-crewed pushboats are 25 feet, 3 inches long, with a 14-foot beam and a 4-foot maximum draft. The design accommodates operations out of main channels to position the dredge barges and mud barges close to shore. The pushboats are equipped with telescoping wheelhouses that can be raised and lowered 4 feet for areas with limited overhead clearances common on the river and the canal. All of the pushboats have identical hull dimensions and two propellers. Four pushboats have twin John Deere 6068 M3 Tier 2 diesels rated at 201 hp at 2,000 rpm each, and 13 boats have twin John Deere 6081 Tier 2 diesels rated at 300 hp at 2,200 rpm each, said Marine Inland Fabricators President Rudy Sistrunk.

New York Gov. David Paterson said the project will create an estimated 500 jobs. That total includes maritime crews, excavator operators on the anchored dredge barges, landside treatment operators and railroad workers. The boat-building contract boosted employment at Marine Inland Fabricators in Florida from 30 to 45 during the construction period.

Navigational benefits include dredging the Champlain Canal to allow loaded mud barges to transit Lock 7 and three bridges to the processing facility south of Lock 8. That was not done in the past to avoid disturbing PCB sediment.

Richard O. Aichele

By Professional Mariner Staff