LENOX -- The town is in the crosshairs of the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed 13-year cleanup plan to rid the Housatonic of toxic PCBs, Select Board Chairman Channing Gibson told board members last week. He observed that town leaders "see the seriousness" in the Rest of River scenario.
If the proposal is adopted in its current form, GE would pay an estimated $613 million to remove through dredging and capping up to 90 percent of the likely cancer-causing chemicals from "hot spots" along 10 miles of the river, its banks and floodplain extending from southeast Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox, one of the most-contaminated sections. The project is not expected to begin for five years.
"It's a monstrous, enormously expensive effort," Gibson declared. "It's hard to imagine how it's even going to be done."
The chairman sought support from the other four board members for an official, specific written response from the town to the EPA during its public comment period, which began on Wednesday and runs until Aug. 8, though it's likely to extended by another 30 or 60 days.
"I don't think we can get into whether or not it's the right kind of cleanup," Gibson added, "but whether or not we need to express our concerns."
He questioned the start of dredging Woods Pond for four and a half years at the same time the cleanup effort begins upriver in Pittsfield. The pond, which would be excavated and then deepened, would be capped several years later, he stated.
"I've got to believe that more PCBs are going to migrate while they're doing the work upstream," said Gibson. "They've got to do more dredging in Woods Pond than any other place ... I think they want to get some of the bulk of the work done."
He cautioned that a plan to spread the work over 10 or 13 years, with gaps in between, "would be terribly disruptive."
The proposal calls for nearly 1 million cubic yards of contaminated material to be removed during the entire project, 10 yards per truckload. But 240,000 cubic yards are due to be extracted from Woods Pond alone.
"The impact on Lenox Dale is just going to be phenomenal," Gibson said. "We can't necessarily stop that with a letter, but we would be expressing our concern about the logistics of how that's going to be handled and what the impact is going to be on our town."
Town Manager Christopher Ketchen suggested that the town seek an extension of the comment period until Oct. 27, a goal shared by five other affected riverfront communities -- Pittsfield, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield.
"It's important for us to send in a letter so we can achieve standing as an interested party," he said.
Ketchen said a draft of the document would be presented at the next Select Board meeting on July 9 in order to meet a target of submitting a letter on the next day, along with the five other communities.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto