Clarence Fanto: Dredging up differing opinions


LENOX -- The dreaded "D" word -- dredging -- has surfaced as plans rev up for two different, crucial South Berkshire waterway environmental projects.

We’ll see the long-awaited U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Housatonic "Rest of River" PCB cleanup proposal at a public meeting during the week of June 16; the specific date, time and Lenox site will be announced when confirmed, EPA spokesman Jim Murphy said on Friday. The session will include presentations by EPA staff, and a
Q-and-A period.

The proposed plan will emerge first online early in June at and copies will be posted at town halls in communities along the river. Written public comment follows from June 25 through Aug. 7; hearing dates and places will be scheduled for oral comment.

Though few details have leaked out, the word is Woods Pond, a sizzling "hot spot" of PCB contamination, will be dredged and capped. The plan for the idyllic stretch of river from Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield into Lenox, and then points south into Connecticut, remains to be seen.

The most ardent advocates of a full-bore, maximum-cost cleanup have worried aloud that the EPA plan, negotiated with input from GE, may not be sufficiently extensive. Fury at GE for polluting the river with the probable cancer-causing chemicals remains at high pitch.

But others, including some wildlife enthusiasts, hope for a less-invasive approach, agreeing with, though not adopting, the GE-hatched slogan, "Don’t destroy the river in order to save it."

Litigation is a distinct possibility, perhaps by the Housatonic River Initiative environmental group, or by GE if the plan is more extensive and costly than the company wishes to tolerate. A massive impact on Lenox and other communities is a certainty.

On a less contentious note, a state dredging project for a portion of Stockbridge Bowl is sailing along with barely a ripple of public concern so far. On the contrary, more than half the projected $2 million cost of the cleanup designed to remove silt from the "Great Pond" is expected to be raised privately.

The lake is a favorite of swimmers, boaters and fishermen. It has a popular town beach and serves Camp Mah-Kee-Nac, the famed summer camp for boys, Tanglewood and Kripalu, which have private swimming areas, as well as numerous residents with lakefront or nearby property.

"Saving Stockbridge Bowl" is a campaign just launched by the Stockbridge Bowl Association, the large group of lake-area residents which has been a guardian of the lake’s well-being for generations.

In its pitch for support, advocates point out that the scenic, 370-acre lake -- home to the kayak segment of the Josh Billings Runaground triathlon -- has been degraded by human activities. A potential infestation of zebra mussels has been thwarted by the installation of a boat-washing station at the Route 183 launching site.

"The lake has been heavily contaminated by non-native Eurasian Milfoil brought in inadvertently by many boats and by proliferating water lilies; in addition, the lake is being choked by the buildup of silt," association leaders stated. "If we don’t halt the growth of invasive milfoil and reverse the buildup of silt, much of the Bowl will become an unsightly, unusable bog."

The next phase of the town’s Lake Management Program -- which seeks a second $25,000 infusion of support from Town Meeting voters Monday evening -- would dredge silt that’s filling in portions of the lake at the pond adjoining the causeway, behind the small island and in the outlet section at the southern end.

That project would be followed by a low-cost, 51Ž2-foot drawdown aimed at wiping out the invasive milfoil and water lily roots by freezing and killing them. Already completed in April 2012 was installation of a diversion drain; the cost, just above $1 million, was raised by the Stockbridge Bowl Association.

According to Shirley Blanchard of the association, engineering studies, permits and fundraising for the public-private partnership will determine the timing and location of the phase-by-phase dredging operation.

"Dredging will expensive, but it is essential to maintain the beauty and recreational usefulness of the Bowl," she stated.

Her breakdown of the three-year fundraising campaign projects $1.25 million from association board members, major gifts from contributors and organizations, as well as individual and foundation support. About $400,000 in federal and state grant support is being sought, plus $250,000 in Community Preservation Act funding (a mix of town and state dollars) and direct town support of $100,000.

Grand total: $2 million.

At this time of year, just a month after "ice-out," the lake looks benign and quite pristine. But danger lurks beneath the placid surface now dotted by sailboats on weekends. The protectors of the Bowl are off to a good start, with plenty of town support.

Berkshire County’s lakes, including Onota and Pontoosuc in Pittsfield and Cheshire Reservoir, are among our crown jewels and worthy of the tender, loving care that individuals, organizations and committed local governments can bestow.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions