It's not a thing of beauty as are Onota or Pontoosuc lakes, but Silver Lake has endured abuse that was never visited upon its two big siblings. It's reclamation is a remarkable achievement, one symbolizing Pittsfield's ongoing recovery from the stain of PCB pollution.
Since the late 19th century, the urban lake off East Street has been polluted by garbage, PCBs, metallic waste, oil, sewage, road salt, sand and silt. It caught fire once and longtime residents like Mayor Daniel Bianchi (Eagle, May 2) remember when the lake refused to freeze over during the coldest of winters and would occasionally change into colors not seen in nature. It was an embarrassment that came to represent Pittsfield's post-General Electric struggles. Silver Lake's remediation was a component of the Consent Decree with Pittsfield, GE, the EPA and other parties, and about 15 years after its signing that project is now complete.
The 26-acre bottom of the lake was capped by the EPA, which will monitor the lake for the foreseeable future. It is difficult to imagine anyone swimming in it and fishing is on catch-and-release status because the fish are contaminated with PCBs. However, boating is fine and ice skating will be a recreational pursuit this winter, as it is predicted the cleaned lake will freeze like a normal body of water. On May 23, a pedestrian walkway be dedicated along the eastern and northern shorelines of the lake.
It was a long road back for Silver Lake, as it was for the Housatonic River and other contaminated sites in Pittsfield. With their revival, Pittsfield can move on from an era that brought economic benefits, but environmental degradation, and better exploit its choice spot in the center of the Berkshires.