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Here is a timeline of the process leading to the Housatonic Rest of River cleanup settlement agreement.

2000: The U.S. District Court in Springfield issues a decree requiring specific actions for 25 PCB cleanups in Pittsfield and the Housatonic River. All but three have been completed, but for the Rest of River section of the Housatonic; more information was needed before a cleanup could proceed. GE and EPA performed risk assessments, modeling and sampling, leading to an analysis of alternative cleanup approaches.

2011: EPA issues its proposed cleanup requirements for review by EPA’s National Remedy Review Board, and accepted comments from GE and the public. The remedy called for excavation of 1,070,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated material, containment and monitoring, with off-site disposal. Based on the public and GE’s comments, EPA then engaged in technical discussions with representatives of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

May 2012: The two states issued a status report proposing a cleanup that included an estimated 990,000 cubic yards of sediment removal, slightly less than the 2011 EPA proposal.

2012-2013: At GE’s request, EPA held discussions with the company until late in 2013, but did not reach any agreements.

2014: EPA issues a draft cleanup proposal for a formal, four-month comment period. This permit also required the removal of about 990,000 cubic yards of material. EPA received 2,100 pages of public comments from over 140 commenters.

September 2015: EPA issued its “Intended Final Decision” leading to the current dispute resolution. Similarly, the decision required the removal of about 990,000 cubic yards of material. Within 30 days, GE faulted the findings as “arbitrary, capricious, unlawful.”

Fall 2016: EPA issues a final permit for the work and it is promptly appealed by GE. Other parties join for the next step.

June 2017: The Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C., hears the case. 

January 2018: The EAB mostly upholds the EPA’s actions, though the three justices ask the agency to take a fresh look at its requirement that all PCB-tainted materials be shipped for disposal out of Massachusetts — a key objection by GE.

Summer 2018: Though the agency had said it would bolster its argument for out-of-state disposal, the EPA joins a mediation effort led by attorney John Bickerman.

December 2018: Bickerman emcees a heavily attended community meeting at the Lenox Middle and High School to explain the mediation. Many in attendance decry the prospect of local PCB disposal. 

Feb. 10, 2020: The EPA announces a “hybrid” approach that allows local disposal at a landfill to be constructed in Lee, with at least 100,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments shipped to federally approved facilities out of state. The Lee site would receive more than 1 million cubic feet of material with average PCB concentrations of 20-25 parts per million, about half the action threshold set by the Toxic Substances Control Act. 

— Larry Parnass & Clarence Fanto