LENOX -- How much leverage can six communities expect now that they have banded together to seek financial compensation from GE for economic damage from a potentially massive PCB cleanup along the Housatonic south of Pittsfield?
According to Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, "one of the factors EPA and ultimately the courts have to presumably consider is cost. I think GE has been playing a very clever game of externalizing costs -- costs that it should be assuming, it has been trying to shift to the communities or ignore that they’re even there."
Addressing the Lenox Select Board on Wednesday night, Karns noted that GE wants some concessions from the communities that they’re not going to be willing to give, such as an in-county landfill to contain the contaminated sediment removed from the river. State environmental officials have strongly opposed a local disposal site, insisting that the contamination be removed out-of-state. Federal officials have indicated support for the state position.
Pittsfield’s City Council on Tuesday is expected to join Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield in an intermunicipal agreement to hire a high-powered legal group in Newtown, just west of Boston, to negotiate with GE for payback.
The agreement requires unanimous consent from the committee representing the six communities for any dumping of hazardous waste at a local site such as Lane Construction Co. in Lee, adjoining the Lenox town line. As Karns observed, there would be no such approval.
"I think ultimately, the communities will have a tremendous amount of leverage" over compensation for traffic and transportation impacts caused by whatever cleanup plan emerges through an eventual consent decree among the EPA, the state, GE and other stakeholders.
"Whatever the consent agreement says, my best guess is that it will be decided in court, not anywhere else," Karns said.