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Fort Edward braces for GE closure

npr.org file photo
GE Factory at Fort Edward overlooking the Hudson River

General Electric announced on Monday it plans to cease operations at their Fort Edward factory within a year. The factory currently makes electrical components. The move will eliminate 200 jobs from the small community in Washington County. As the town braces for the impact, Jenna Flanagan talks to some locals about what comes next, including the possibility of an extensive site cleanup.

"This is definitely a setback because it’s one of our cornerstone employers.”

Kevin Hayes is the Washington County Administrator. He says while the county is ready to provide support to the 200 laid-off workers, closing the factory is a major blow in a town of six-thousand.

“I’m not sure the community can absorb that number, especially when we have a catheter plant over in Argyle with about 250 closing almost at the same time. So with them leaving, that makes it almost 400 jobs and that’s a large change.”

GE’s employed people in its Washington County factories for over 70 years, making it a driving force behind the local economy.

But, factory closures are nothing new for Fort Edward. In the mid 90’s Scott Paper shuttered its factory eliminating around 300 jobs.

Luckily, the paper factory was purchased by Irving Paper in 1996 and it’s now the largest employer in town with 400 employees.

Chuck Weingart has owned the Agway/True Value hardware store for 20 years and says the people of Fort Edward are fighters.

“This town’s a survivor town. People survive. They’ve been through a lot in this area so. They’ve has a lot of things happen. Mills close move on, people lose their jobs but they still survive and rally around this area. People are very supportive of the Ford Edward Hudson Falls area.”

In addition to the job losses at GE, there’s also the issue of the factory building and its location. The plant sits on the town’s main drag across from popular chain restaurants like McDonalds, Dunkin’ Donouts and Stewarts.

Chamber of Commerce President Larry Moffit believes the building at 334 Broadway could be easily converted to retail.

“We do have 30-thousand vehicles pass though here. It would be an ideal area for shopping, shopping center plaza and such.”

But there’s one BIG problem.

That the area is very contaminated. We would hope that obviously the area would not be a dilapidated building. We hope that it would be leveled and the site would be cleaned up.”

Moffit says the Environmental Protection Agency would have to work with General Electric to ensure the cleanup of PCBs is completed properly and efficiently.

Agway/True Value owner chuck Weingart says cleaning up and repurposing the property would provide a much needed boost for the area.

“This town gets a lot of… it needs some positive news. It’s a nice area to live, it’s this whole area is beautiful right up along the river. I mean, it just. It really needs some good news.”

Responding in a statement, GE says it’s considering proposals from the union and the plant closure isn’t official. If those negotiations fail, the factory will be closed in September of 2014. Management will provide assistance to impacted employees and work with them to explore job opportunities within the company.

GE factories in Ft. Edward were the source of PCB contamination now being dredged from the Hudson River.The company released poly-chlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the river till PCBs were banned in the 1970s, and is dredging the river as part of a federal Superfund project that's expected to cost more than $1 billion.

Crews were in their fourth year of the project this summer.

* Correction. An earlier version of this post incorrectly to PCPs. It should read PCBs.