The Pittsfield City Council's vote Tuesday to join five other Berkshire towns in negotiating compensation from General Electric for the pending cleanup of the Housatonic River came with more drama than was anticipated. The narrow 6-5 vote, however, should not be interpreted as a sign that Pittsfield isn't fully behind the compensation effort.
At large City Councilor Barry Clairmont and ward councilors Christine Yon, John Krol and Jonathan Lothrop expressed concern that there were questions left unanswered by the proposed contract, which involved a $10,000 appropriation by the city, and that more time was not provided in advance to ask questions of the administration of Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi. As the City Council is not a rubber-stamp board, Councilor Krol's unsuccessful motion to table the vote for three weeks to get more information was reasonable. The "Rest of River" cleanup process has dragged on for three years and nothing is going to change within the next three weeks. The Eagle endorsed a vote in favor Tuesday night, and was glad to see it happen, but a likely vote in favor in three weeks would not have changed the dynamic.
The questions raised by the councilors, such as the method of how any compensation would be divided among the member communities, should be answered in the months ahead, and we suspect would have been as the process continued regardless of Tuesday's vote. It seems likely that officials and residents in the other participating communities -- Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield -- have the same questions.
The contract calls for the six towns to hire the Newton law firm of Pawa Law Group, environmental law specialists, as advisers, with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission acting as agents for the communities. With Pittsfield aboard, this compact will carry more weight in what is sure to be a contentious process in the months ahead.