LEE >> The Environmental Protection Agency's insistence that local PCB dumps will not be allowed as part of the "Rest of River" cleanup won't hold up unless the agency beats General Electric in court.
That was the message from Timothy Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, in response to an EPA's statement issued Wednesday reinforcing that tainted sediment dredged from the river south of Pittsfield must be shipped out of state.
"The EPA can say what it wants," he said, "but will their position stand in the end?"
Gray's comments came after a 90-minute community meeting, the latest in a series hosted by the initiative, to rally opposition to GE's proposal to store the contaminated soil in landfill sites in Great Barrington and Lee.
The EPA in September released its $613 million, 13-year plan to cleanse the Housatonic of most of the toxic PCBs along a 10-mile stretch between southeast Pittsfield and Woods Pond in Lenox.
GE, which is responsible for cleaning up the chemicals it released into the river for years, is challenging parts of the EPA's cleanup plan. The company opposes, among other things, the requirement that sediment be shipped out of state in accordance with state Department of Environmental Protection regulations.
Instead, GE wants to establish a landfill next to Lane Construction on the Lee/Lenox border, along Forest Street in Lee and/or a site near Rising Pond in the Great Barrington village of Housatonic.
The dispute is likely to land in a federal court, where the company would have the upper hand, Gray told about 75 people gathered at the First Congregational Church.
"The government has good lawyers," he said. "But the capability of GE lawyers is the best."
Housatonic River Initiative is urging the citizens to pressure state and federal lawmakers and their local municipal leaders to fight any PCB dumps in Berkshire communities along the river.
Two years ago, Lee, Lenox, Sheffield, Great Barrington, Stockbridge and Pittsfield formed a committee and hired an environmental law firm to fight the PCB dumps and any other negative impact from the proposed cleanup.
"We just bought a house [in Housatonic] and found out (a proposed PCB dump) would be 200 feet from us," said Reed Anderson.
Sage Radachowsky noted sealing the PCB sediment in a local landfill truly doesn't rid the area of PCB contamination.
"It's like a sink full of dirty dishes and you put them in the closet, you still have to do the dishes," he said.
Gray said there are bioremediation technologies that might be more effective for the cleanup than dredging, considered intrusive and damaging by some residents. But he said the EPA hasn't budged from its plans for digging up the polluted river sediment.
He pointed out in past meetings that dredging technology has improved such that the contaminated soil can be vacuumed up, rather than scooped up by large excavators.
The group is gathering signatures at nopcbdumps.com for a petition opposing GE's plan.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233