Lenox officials back river plan

Thursday, January 29
LENOX — In advance of a state hearing on the matter tonight, Lenox officials voted Wednesday to support a proposed environmental designation for the Housatonic River.

The town's Board of Selectmen and Planning Board voted unanimously to support a proposal by a group of environmentalists to have an area of the Housatonic River designated an area of critical environmental concern, or ACEC.

Having a say on how the Housatonic will be dredged, its impact on people who live near it, and where PCBs will be stored is crucial to the town, said Stephen Pavlosky, Board of Selectmen chairman.

"The greatest concern for the town is the impact (of dredging) on the citizens, and to protect the resource we have in the river," Pavlosky said.

The ACEC would cover a 13-mile stretch of the Housatonic and 12,280 surrounding acres in Pittsfield, Lee, Lenox and Washington. It was proposed by Save the Housatonic, a coalition of environmentalists, conservationists and sportsmen, and would add a layer of bureaucratic control to the designated area. Proponents believe that added protection would give residents greater input in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision on how to cleanup PCB pollution that General Electric left in the river.

Despite the boards' united stance, there were concerns raised over what impact the bureaucracy would have on potential business development, particularly in the industrial zone in Lenoxdale.

"That (area) is supposed to be developed and if you put another layer of bureaucracy, it might stop certain people from coming in and developing," said Ken Fowler, a Planning Board member.

Eleanor Tillinghast, of Green Berkshires and a representative for Save the Housatonic, said those concerns have proven unfounded.

"We think that the record has shown that an ACEC doesn't impede economic progress," said Tillinghast, noting Taunton among the numerous towns where ACECs exist in the state.

Members of each board said they didn't think the proposal was ideal, but protecting the river for the sake of residents and maintaining the area as an eco-tourist destination trumps those concerns.

"Time will tell if it's the right decision, but to not protect the river doesn't make sense either," said Fowler.

Two members of the Planning Board, Chairman Joe Kellogg and Vice Chairman Stephen Sample, recused themselves from the decision, as they each own property in the designated area.

The hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Lenox Memorial High School theater at 197 East. St., and will allow those in favor and against to voice their concerns on the matter. Those concerns will be recorded for the consideration of the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. While state officials will attend the meeting, they will not be answering questions.


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