Neal challenger Morse: Housatonic cleanup deal allows GE 'to do the bare minimum'

Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, speaks out against the building of a proposed PCB dumping site along the Lee/Lenox town lines.

LEE — A group of Lee residents wants to tap into as much as $50,000 in taxpayer money to fight a planned PCB disposal site in their town.

Led by attorney Judith Knight, homeowners who border or live near the proposed site along the Housatonic River have asked the Select Board to release some or all of the $50,000 the annual town meeting set aside for legal expenses.

“We want some of that money,” Janice Castegnaro-Braim told the board during its Tuesday meeting. “I hope we can work together. We can get this thing stopped.”

In February, Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield accepted a plan to remove polychlorinated biphenyls from the river. The toxins were released into the river for decades by GE when the substance, now banned, was used to manufacture transformers.

Until joining in the settlement, the federal Environmental Protection Agency had been against burying PCBs in Berkshire County as part of the long-planned Rest of River cleanup.

Under the agreement unveiled in February, the agency would order a cleanup that allows GE to bury about 1 million cubic yards of sediment containing lower levels of PCBs in the newly created Lee landfill.

PCBs are listed as a probable carcinogen. The deal reached in February calls for the highest concentrations of PCBs to be sent to an official disposal site outside Massachusetts.

The monetary request was one of three questions the group, through Knight, submitted in writing to the board, with a request that it receive answers in two weeks. Opponents of what’s known as the Upland Disposal Facility believe that the agreement was reached without public input and shrouded in secrecy.

The board denies the allegation. “It was done under the law,” said Select Board member Patricia Carlino.

The board has maintained that the deal is the best option for the town, saying GE likely would win any court case the town brings against the agreement.

Opponents say they believe that burying PCBs on a former quarry site in Lee, as is planned, will harm the town and environment.

“We cannot have that dump in the town of Lee, it will devastate the town for decades,” Knight said.

By the board’s Dec. 1 meeting, the citizens group also wants to know what steps the board has taken to hire legal counsel to pull Lee out of the agreement, if any, and what action it would consider to rescind the deal.

Board Chairman David Consolati offered an answer Tuesday to the first question about steps already taken: “At the moment, nothing.”

He said that if the board can’t answer the group’s questions by Dec. 1, the three-member panel will address them at its Dec. 15 meeting.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com