Pittsfield, five towns show united front to EPA

Wednesday September 26, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The city and five towns concerned about the potential economic impact of a Housatonic River PCB cleanup doubled down on their commitment to seek compensation if needed.

That came out of a recent meeting of community leaders from Pittsfield and Lenox, Great Barrington, Lee, Stockbridge and Sheffield, towns along the Housatonic downstream of the city.

Lenox Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler called that meeting "a first step to find the one voice we would be using in dealing with the cleanup and how this would proceed. It's a very difficult, extended process that we're facing here."

Citing the cleanup project's impact on property values, traffic, tourism, aesthetic considerations and residential quality of life, Fowler termed it a "breakthrough procedure" for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is considering plans for the cleanup, to consider potential compensation and to review a letter signed by leaders of the six communities seeking great er attention to the economic effects.

"It gives us the opportunity to at least look at the chance that we could have some compensation for the economic damage that could result from the cleanup," said Fowler.

"Some things that we're going to lose in this cleanup will be gone forever," he added. "Other things will come back slowly but it's a process that needs serious attention."

Fowler attended the six-community meeting, along with Selectman John McNinch and Town Manager Gregory Feder spiel. The town manager has been tapped as the Lenox "point person" to keep on top of the evolving project to remove PCBs spilled into the river from GE's transformer plant in Pittsfield from the 1930s until the U.S. banned the likely cancer-causing chemical in 1977.

Selectman Edward Lane mentioned studies of emerging technology for PCB removal by a biotech firm that might be presented to the town sometime next month by the Housatonic River Initiative, a coalition of concerned residents led by Tim Gray.

"It's our job to make sure what's done is in our best interest and has all aspects considered," said Fowler. "That ‘one voice' is going to be difficult, no doubt about it. I can see that there are a few voices, so maybe not one voice but a chorus."

The joint letter signed by Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and representatives from the five towns was sent to EPA Regional Administrtor Curt Spalding on Aug. 31, arguing that the agency-funded study on the impact of a "Rest of River" project underestimated the impact on the communities.

When the letter was sent out, Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason said it was "great that all the towns are working together." He cited Lee and Lenox as the two communities that will see the most severe impact.

Bianchi, declaring that the city has the heaviest contamination, stated that "it's important for Pittsfield to be part of the discussion. It's going to be a long process."

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission has been overseeing the impact studies on behalf of the six communities.

The EPA has delayed issuing details and a timeline for the cleanup, citing ongoing discussions with state environmental leaders as well as GE. A proposal for public discussion may emerge by the end of this year, according to Nath aniel Karns, head of the planning commission.

Most of the remaining "hot spots" of PCB contamination are along a 10-mile stretch of the Housatonic between Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield and Woods Pond in Lenox, which may be targeted for dredging and deepening as part of a cleanup plan.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.


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