"We are now facing several obstacles beyond our control that make it unrealistic to begin dredging during the 2007 dredging season," said EPA regional administrator Alan Steinberg in a statement.
In making the announcement the EPA agreed with Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric Co.'s earlier assessment that the necessary riverside sediment processing facility could not be completed in time for 2007 dredging, which must be done in the spring and summer.
Steinberg said he hoped GE would begin the initial work at the processing site this fall.
The delay had been predicted by environmental groups who have accused the company of foot-dragging on the massive project. The EPA is overseeing the project, but GE is doing the planning and contracting.
"We think this is a big mistake," said Rob Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. "This is a cleanup that was supposed to be initiated last year. It's been the subject of a lot of public discussion and scrutiny, and it's time for General Electric to make good."
Moore said the EPA's decision is another example of the agency caving in to GE's stalling tactics.
Steinberg, the EPA official, said the agency has made "a Herculean effort to move the project forward as fast as possible."
A spokesman for GE did not immediately return a call for comment. The sediment processing plant, called a "de-watering" site, is planned for Fort Edward.
EPA officials said in March they were worried about a possible delay when the company released a mammoth 1,500-page proposed design for the first phase of the dredging, including a 12-to-15 month timetable for building the Fort Edward site.
GE dumped an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river from its plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls before the federal government banned the substance in 1977. PCBs are classified as a probable cause of cancer.
The EPA decided in 2002 to dredge 2.65 million cubic yards of toxic sediment from the river. The initial cost estimate was $500 million, but officials say the total price may surpass $700 million.
The dredging work is designed as a two-part operation, in which the first one-year phase would remove about 250,000 cubic yards of PCB-soaked sediment. The second stage would remove the bulk of the sediment, more than 2 million cubic yards.