ACEC status for river

Saturday, January 31
Environmentalists, officials and concerned citizens have succeeded in making the case for granting the Housatonic River and about 12,000 surrounding acres a special environmental designation and the state should grant it without hesitation. With the federal Environmental Protection Agency expected to announce its cleanup plan for the river below Pittsfield some time this spring, this designation will offer protection against the plan should it be little or no better than the cure.

Save the Housatonic, a coalition of environmental and conservation groups, wants the river and surrounding land in Pittsfield, Lee, Lenox and Washington to be defined as an area of critical environmental concern, or ACEC. At a well-attended hearing Thursday night, groups like the Berkshire Natural Resources Council and the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen expressed concern that the original PCB cleanup plan offered by General Electric could do considerable harm to the river and nearby acreage. While the EPA showed no enthusiasm for the GE plan, concerns that the agency won't adequately protect the river or consider alternative cleanup methods spurred the pursuit of an ACEC designation.

What succeeded as a cleanup strategy for the river and its banks in urban Pittsfield won't work for the remainder of Berkshire County, yet GE offered a one size fits all proposal that failed to take these dramatic differences into consideration. It included significant dredging and even a landfill, a non-starter given the controversy over the landfill in Pittsfield's Allendale neighborhood. The potential impact of such a cleanup on Lenox residents prompted the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board to recommend granting of the environmental designation last week.

Concerns were expressed at Thursday's hearing that the ACEC designation would hinder economic development within the area, but we see the designation as another line of defense against inappropriate development. Business and industry that already pass muster with boards and agencies with jurisdiction in this area should have no trouble satisfying the requirements of the ACEC.

This pristine section of the Housatonic River, with its appeal to fishermen and sportsmen, its importance to migratory birds and other forms of wildlife, its natural beauty and environmental significance, personifies what the Berkshires mean to residents and tourists alike. It more than deserves this extra level of protection in light of the potential impact of a cleanup, and we urge the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to provide it, and without delay.


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