Members of the public will have nearly two additional months to submit comments on a proposed GE cleanup of the Housatonic River.

The deadline has been extended to Oct. 1 for public input on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed plan to remove PCBs from a 10-mile stretch of the river downstream from southeast Pittsfield. The initial deadline was Aug. 8.

The agency said the deadline was pushed back in response to several requests for more time to analyze the voluminous proposal, which was posted online on May 30.

The EPA also announced on Thursday that its formal public hearing on the 13-year, $613 million cleanup proposal will be held at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 23 in the Duffin Theater of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School. An informal presentation of the plan was offered at the same location on June 18.

The plan, which federal officials acknowledge is at least five years from the start of construction, calls on GE to remove through dredging and capping up to 90 percent of the probable cancer-causing chemicals from designated "hot spots" from southeast Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox, which would be drained, excavated and then refilled.

Sections of the Housatonic from Woods Pond south through Connecticut would be monitored for natural recovery, relying on physical, chemical and biological techniques to isolate, destroy and otherwise reduce exposure to PCB contamination.

Major issues concerning residents and communities along the path of the cleanup include the impact of the prolonged construction period and of truck traffic carrying contaminated debris out of the immediate area for disposal at an out-of-state, licensed waste-disposal facility. The EPA has suggested that rail transportation be utilized, but it's unclear which rail line could accommodate transport of the material.

Intense opposition to the cleanup proposal already has surfaced among homeowners in several southeast Pittsfield neighborhoods adjoining the river, as well as in Lenox.

"It's a monstrous, enormously expensive effort," Lenox Select Board Chairman Channing Gibson has declared. "It's hard to imagine how it's even going to be done."

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto

To submit comments ...

Any members of the public who wish to submit formal written comments for consideration by the EPA can mail them to Dean Tagliaferro, EPA New England, Weston Solutions, 10 Lyman St., Pittsfield MA 01201. Comments can be e-mailed to r1housatonic@epa.gov or faxed to (617) 918-0028. The new deadline for submitting comments is Oct. 1.

On the Web ...

The government's proposal can be reviewed at www.epa.gov/region1/ge/proposedcleanupplan.html, and at some town halls along the river. Additional details are posted at www.epa.gov/region1/ge/thesite/restofriver.html.