LEE -- Residents this week can speak up about the future use of four long-dormant paper mills in Lee and Lenox Dale.

On Thursday, town officials and staff from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission will conduct the first public meeting on the Brownfields Area-Wide Plan for the Eagle, Columbia, Greylock and Niagara (Lenox Dale) mills, which shut down in May 2008, putting nearly 170 people out of work.

The meeting begins 7 p.m. in the Lee Elementary School cafeteria on Greylock Street, behind Lee Middle and High School.

The project, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last fall, is designed to assist with community involvement, research planning and implementation strategies related to brownfields cleanup and reuse of the industrial sites.

Although Mill Renaissance LLC, led by Great Barrington developer Jeffrey Cohen, has a preliminary mixed-use plan for the Eagle Mill, regional planners say the federally funded study is looking at the big picture as no plans exist to date for the other three mills.

"The Eagle Mill proposal can only help our efforts and, if developed, could lead to a domino effect for reuse of the remaining mills," said BRPC senior planner Melissa Provencher.

In March, Niagara Worldwide of St. Louis and Niagara, Wis. announced it was poised to buy Columbia, Greylock and Niagara from Schweitzer-Mauduit International.

The paper manufacturer already had sold the Eagle Mill to an Albany, N.Y.-area developer, whose plans to redevelop the town's oldest mill never materialized. Cohen plans to execute the purchase and sale agreement he has with representatives of the current owner if his re-use project receives local and state approval.

Thursday's public input session will be the first of several, according to Provencher, as the mills reuse will impact the town's infrastructure, economy, environmental and social surroundings.

"This process is going to be very much driven by the community," she said. "We recognize the importance of these mills to the community and the revitalization of these important sites should be decided by the residents of Lee in open dialogue."

To reach Dick Lindsay:

rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,

or (413) 496-6233