Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

PITTSFIELD — Sept. 15 could be the last time residents of the Berkshires are able to say out loud to government officials what they think of plans to remove toxins from the Housatonic River.

And, specifically, to speak up about the fact that the project intends to bury PCBs in a former quarry in Lee.

At two hearings Aug. 26, people phoning in to the Environmental Protection Agency's online sessions requested more time to respond to the agency's latest order to the General Electric Co. That order outlines how GE will remove polychlorinated biphenyls from areas of the river south of the company's former Pittsfield plant.

The planned Upland Disposal Facility in Lee, which would receive about 1 million cubic yards of sediment containing lower levels of the toxin, drew heated criticism.

"You guys need to face this in person," Janice Braim said in her comments.

But, a spokesman for the EPA said this week that the agency believes it has offered enough chances for public comment and will not add sessions. And he said the agency does not believe an in-person hearing can be safety held because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The comment period remains open through Sept. 18. People can call in to the Sept. 15 online session — as well as send comments by mail, email and voice message.

Over more than four hours of hearings Aug. 26, several people joined Braim in asking for more time to sound off.

Anne Langlais, of Lee, said she knows of people unable to access the online meeting.

"This plan is being rushed through," said Holly Hardman, of Great Barrington. "Please put the brakes on this plan and do the responsible thing."

David Deegan, of the EPA's Boston office, said the one session planned for Aug. 26 was expanded to two and another added for Sept. 15.

"We are confident that we have in place a robust and ample public comment opportunity for citizens and interested parties to participate in," Deegan said in an email, in response to questions.

The current Rest of River plan, a revision of a document released in late 2016, came out July 9. Deegan said the July 9 release was designed to give people time to study the plan and comment by a set deadline — now Sept. 18.

"It is worth noting that EPA is providing more ways to comment on this permit than what is required under our regulations and which are also above and beyond the traditional public comment process," Deegan said.

To see this year's changes in the permit, people can visit the permit at an EPA website: epa.gov/ge-housatonic. Click on "Draft Revised 2020 Permit/Proposed Remedial Action for the Housatonic River "Rest of River."

The changes are indicated in red, either with new text or strikeouts.

Comments can be emailed to r1housatonic@epa.gov, faxed to 617-918-0028 or mailed to GE-Housatonic River Site Public Comments, EPA Region 1, 5 Post Office Square (Mail Code SEMC-07-01), Boston, MA 02109-3912.

Additional information on the cleanup permit modifications can be found online at epa.gov/ge-housatonic.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


TALK TO US

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.