The long-awaited EPA Housatonic River cleanup plan released Monday is still subject to change after the public comment period but is clearly designed to find a balanced approach between two poles. It proposes an aggressive cleanup of PCB "hot spots" in the 10.5-mile stretch beginning south of the completed Pittsfield cleanup and ending at Woods Pond in Lenox, while allowing the free-flowing sections of the river from Woods Pond to the Connecticut border to recover naturally, which should happen following the removal and capping of the worst sections.
Woods Pond would get an extensive cleanup, as would a stretch of the river in Lenox and another in Lee and Stockbridge that contains four dams. This will mean considerable work, none of it pretty, but it is a necessity, which is not necessarily the case for the river as it flows south of Woods Pond. Significantly, the plan calls for all contaminated material to be transported out of the Berkshires to appropriate facilities, which means no landfills.
General Electric, which released PCBs into the river from its Pittsfield transformer plant for 45 years, ending in 1977, said it would submit comments upon review of the $613 million plan, but didn't wait to express its objections. GE, which joined environmental officials in discussing the plan for 16 months before the dialogue collapsed, implied that the EPA plan "would destroy the sensitive ecosystem." The corporation went on to assert that it offered to implement a PCB removal project that was "far larger" than the one proposed by the commonwealth -- and if GE has come up with a plan that will do more of a cleanup while doing less damage to the ecosystem it should post it online so all can marvel at it.
GE's opposition has to be factored into the process, and while for decades it didn't seem possible that Pittsfield would be cleaned of PCBs the Consent Decree accomplished that, with the recently completed cleaning of Silver Lake one of the final components of an agreement signed 15 years ago. It may be years before the Rest of River cleanup gets underway, but it will happen, and EPA's balanced plan represents a major step forward.