Saturday March 24, 2012

PAUL POST

The Troy Record

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Original 250-year-old timbers from Fort Edward -- mistakenly disturbed during 2009 Hudson River PCB dredging -- will be displayed publicly later this year.

Archaeological surveys and artifact recovery are key elements of the $1 billion cleanup that’s scheduled to resume in early May.

General Electric Co. and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials outlined plans Thursday to a roughly 12-member Community Advisory Group at Saratoga Spa State Park.

"Extensive underwater and land archaeological studies are done before any kind of (dredging) impact happens," Lake Champlain Maritime Museum co-director Adam Kane said. "The twists and turns of the river as we go down are really fascinating."

From the 1940s until 1977, GE discharged polychlorinated biphenyls into the Hudson River from its Hudson Falls and Fort Edward plants. Consequently, the EPA has ordered GE to clean up a 40-mile stretch of river from Hudson Falls to Troy.

The first phase of dredging was two years ago in the village of Fort Edward. Crews inadvertently tore up several shoreline timbers, which were believed to have been put there to stabilize the fort, built during the French and Indian War.

"Most construction in Fort Edward was from 1756 to 1758," Kane said.

To preserve them, the recovered timbers have been undergoing chemical treatment at the maritime museum. Under provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act, the timbers will become part of a permanent exhibit at Rogers Island Visitors Center in Fort Edward later this year, Kane said.

Many other original fort timbers are still below ground, a hidden reminder of one of the most significant historic sites in the U.S.

When fully occupied by military personnel and camp-followers, Fort Edward was the third largest population center in early America. It was there that Maj. Robert Rogers formed "Rogers Rangers," the pre-cursor to modern-day special forces units.

Kane said that all dredging operators undergo sensitivity training to identify and properly handle items brought up during dredging.

"It gets people thinking about what is down there through the whole river," said Manna Joe Greene of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater environmental group.

Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce representative Julie Stokes said the upcoming fort timber exhibit could be a model for the entire dredging project that’s scheduled to last several more years.

"What you’re describing is something I would like to see down the length of the river as you move forward," she said. "The artifacts we find could be more significant."

Last year, workers discovered two historic anchors. One, a folding anchor, was used on mid- and late-19th century canal boats. The other, a grappling anchor, is the kind used on small boats such as bateaux in the 18th and 19th centuries.

"It could absolutely have a Revolutionary War context," Kane said.

All items found in the river belong to the state of New York. For things found on land, officials ask property owners to donate them to the New York State Museum in Albany.

"We want to continue to look for opportunities to display artifacts," Kane said.

Each year, archaeologists study the area scheduled for dredging the following year.

Dredging came to a halt last November about a mile south of the village of Fort Edward, where it will resume in early May when the Champlain Canal reopens, heading south several miles to Griffin Island.

The EPA has set a goal of dredging another 350,000 cubic yards of PCB-laden sediment this year. Last year, despite getting off to a late June 6 start because of heavy spring runoff, crews dredged 363,000 cubic yards.