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Judge halts some cleanup of polluted Fox River (UPDATE)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The third year of dredging at the polluted Fox River could end as early as next week after a federal judge raised questions about who’s liable for the cleanup.

Paper company Appleton and NCR Corp. have paid for more than two years of cleanup and agreed to pay for the first three. Questions of who would pay for cleanup beyond that are tied up in court.

U.S. District Judge William Griesbach ruled recently that Appleton, which was previously named Appleton Papers Inc., may have limited liability. He said the federal Superfund law requires accountability fall to the company directly responsible for the pollution.

Federal and state prosecutors allege nearly a dozen paper makers, including Appleton Papers and NCR, were among companies that released toxic PCBs into the river from 1954 to 1971.

Griesbach ruled Appleton would be liable only if it were a successor to NCR, which it isn’t. In issuing his decision, Griesbach denied a request by the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force Appleton Papers and NCR to continue their cleanup pace through the 2011 season.

Beth Olson, a DNR water-quality leader in Green Bay, said the agency was reviewing the decision.

According to court filings, Appleton Papers and NCR wanted to scale back the project this year because of court rulings that dimmed their hopes of recouping the costs they were paying.

Appleton Papers spokeswoman Katherine Querard told the Green Bay Press-Gazette the company will have paid about $300 million in cleanup costs by the end of the year. The total cost of the nine-year project is estimated to be close to $1 billion.

Dredging is expected to end this month. Querard added that sediment out of reach of the dredges would continue to be covered through a capping or sand-covering process until late October.

The cleanup project involves dredging the PCB-contaminated sediment on the bottom of the river and shipping it to a processing facility, where it’s treated before being sent to a landfill. Water is cleaned and returned to the river. In other areas, sediment is being capped and covered on the bottom of the river to hold PCBs in place.

Information from: Green Bay Press-Gazette,

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