The wariness of Berkshire County officials about PCB-contaminated sediment from the Housatonic River ending up into a county landfill is justified. With more information on the much-discussed and long-delayed cleanup of the river south of Pittsfield likely to emerge in a meeting Wednesday, the county must continue to be on guard about a landfill working its way into the a proposed river plan.
The Pittsfield landfill site was the most controversial part of the original Consent Decree with General Electric, but its absence could have been a deal-breaker for a desperately needed settlement that went beyond the river in Pittsfield to include potential business sites and residents’ contaminated yards. GE is not holding the same cards in this case, as the "Rest of the River" PCB cleanup for a 10-mile stretch of the Housatonic south of Pittsfield’s Fred Garner Park is important but not as critical to the towns involved as it was to Pittsfield. It’s for this reason that the delay in coming up with the plan has not concerned those towns, and indeed, there are legitimate concerns that whatever emerges could be worse than the status quo.
Creation of a hazardous waste site, perhaps at a Lane Construction site on the Lee-Lenoxdale line, would be worse than the status quo. In response to a letter drafted by Nathaniel Karns, the executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, and his staff, Kenneth Kimmell, the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, assured the planners, five South County town leaders and Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi that creation of a landfill is "off limits." The federal Environmental Protection Agency also is opposed.
While all this is encouraging, Mr. Karns told The Eagle that he is concerned that "a sharp attorney" could find a way around these prohibitions, and General Electric, which released PCBs into the river from its Pittsfield plant over a 45-year period, has plenty of sharp attorneys who may want to save the corporation the millions of dollars it will cost to ship the river waste out of state. GE’s cost-saving measures are of no concern to Berkshire, state and federal officials, however. The environment is, and a Berkshire dump site cannot be a part of any agreement.