LENOX -- With a sense of urgency, the Select Board and Town Manager Christopher Ketchen are moving to stake out the town's position on a proposed $613 million cleanup of the Housatonic River.

Ketchen recently took an informational tour of the GE-EPA cleanup of the upper Hudson River PCB removal project at Fort Edward, N.Y., with officials from Pittsfield and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

He told board members he gained some insight on the challenges Lenox could face after the Housatonic cleanup begins within the next three to five years.

He urged scheduling of a public forum specific to Lenox within the next several weeks. In addition, the board will plan extensive working sessions to prepare the town's formal response on the cleanup plan, with input from the Planning Board and Conservation Commission.

"It's important for the public to fully engage and make their voices heard," he said.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, leached into the river from the former General Electric transformer plant in Pittsfield for many years. The chemical, a suspected carcinogen, was banned by the U.S. government in 1977.

Cleanup already has been completed on a 2-mile stretch of the river south of the Pittsfield plant. The EPA has been working on the next phase of the cleanup, known as the "Rest of River" plan.

The Environmental Protection Agency's proposal calls on GE to remove through dredging and capping up to 90 percent of the chemicals from designated "hot spots" from southeast Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox, which would be drained, excavated and then refilled.


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Selectman Warren Archey urged a "logical sequence" of cleanup activities from Pittsfield to downstream communities, instead of overlapping work. The location of truck routes, loading areas and potential rail transport of contaminated PCB material dredged from the river and Woods Pond are among the high-priority concerns, Archey said, in addition to impacts on roads and bridges.

He also questioned whether the EPA proposal takes into account the meandering course of the Housatonic and the effects of storms.

"We've got to get it right," Archey said. "What we do or say on this is literally going to affect generations."

Selectman Kenneth Fowler pointed out that the plan indicates PCB debris would be "hauled through Lenox."

"The thing that worries me most is the staging area, where they're going to bring this [contaminated material] and who they're going to use to do that," he said.

"A lot of the big unknown is the means and methods that will be employed," Ketchen said, noting that barges that transport contaminated material along the upper Hudson River could not be used on the narrow, winding Housatonic.

"I'm hearing time is a real issue here," Select Board Chairman Channing Gibson said.

Ketchen and Archey agreed to begin drafting a formal town comment on the cleanup proposal.

"When it's all said and done," Selectman Edward Lane noted, "common sense says the biggest impact is going to be around Woods Pond. I think Lenox should be a little selfish, look out for themselves and really get our act together."

 

Rest of River information

What's next: The EPA will host a formal public hearing on the project at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23, in the Duffin Theater of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School.

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.

Where to write: 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. Final comments from communities and the public are due at the federal agency no later than Oct. 1.

 

To contact Clarence Fanto:
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or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter; @BE_cfanto