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Lee Select Board seeks meetings with Rest of River Committee towns in escalating struggle against PCB landfill

Lee Court House from the street

The Lee Select Board is seeking an audience with other member towns in the Rest of River Committee to make their case against the PCB landfill being planned for the Wood's Pond area.

LEE — Members of the Lee Select Board are not happy with the Rest of River Municipal Committee. They’re not thrilled with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission either.

The five-town committee had decided, in a 4-1 vote, to pay for an attorney to work on finalizing the PCB dump in town under the Environmental Protection Agency-General Electric agreement, even while Lee, one of the five towns, is trying to prevent the creation of the dump.

Then there were the reports from Select Board member Bob Jones and Lee resident Josh Bloom, in the regular Select Board meeting Tuesday night, that the planning commission is working with the other four towns on the Rest of River Committee to undermine Lee’s effort to eliminate the agreement’s plan for a PCB dump near Wood’s Pond.

Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Tom Matuszko serves as chairman on the Rest of River Municipal Committee.

Bloom said the planning commission has “pro-dump biases” and colluded with the other member towns to bypass Lee’s objections and to move forward with the landfill agreement. As a result, he said, the town should end its affiliation with the commission and cease paying for membership. Jones referred to the commission’s disposition as “disheartening.”

The Select Board agreed at the Tuesday meeting to send a letter to the Rest of River Municipal Committee protesting its use of an attorney to work against Lee’s interests. The letter also questions the validity of the process through which the expenditure was authorized.

In a committee meeting on April 13, Jones, Lee’s representative on the body, accused the committee of ignoring the concerns of Lee residents enraged over the planned PCB waste-disposal site in their town.

At a March 27 committee meeting, members voted 4-1, with Jones dissenting, to spend $15,000 from its litigation funds to take part in oral arguments supporting the $576 million EPA-GE cleanup agreement on May 4 before the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Voting in favor were Rest of River Municipal Committee members Channing Gibson of Lenox, Steve Shatz of Stockbridge, Chris Rembold of Great Barrington and Rene Wood of Sheffield.

Bloom filed an Open Meeting Law complaint asserting that the committee’s agenda item for the litigation expenditure was too vague and didn’t specify that the money would support the GE-EPA agreement. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office has not yet ruled on the complaint.

“This vote [to hire an attorney] has caused our board much concern over the legitimacy of the RoR Committee as well as its members’ relationship and responsibility to the respective Select boards that they serve under,” the Lee board’s letter reads.

The Housatonic River Initiative appealed the 2022 approval of the agreement by the three-judge Environmental Appeals Board in Washington.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren's staff will meet with Lee officials on Wednesday to discuss planned PCB dump in town

The Lee Select Board’s letter questions whether the committee allowed the five town select boards to vote on hiring an attorney, rather than leaving it up to each town’s representative on the committee.

“Ideally, members of the RoR committee would seek advice and approval of [each] full select board before agreeing to provide legal representation that potentially favors EPA and GE in constructing [a] PCB landfill in the town of Lee,” the letter continues. “We fear, however, that this consultation did not happen and are hopeful that your board would not have supported these efforts to undermine a case that could save the town of Lee from receiving a toxic landfill.”

The letter adds that while the town doesn’t expect the committee to support the Housatonic River Initiative legal challenge, the opposite is also true: “We feel that supporting GE was contradictory to RoR’s mission to ‘advocate common Housatonic River cleanup goals for the Rest of River to the EPA.’”

The Lee Select Board is requesting that it be allowed to meet with the other towns’ select boards “at an open public meeting” this spring to discuss the matter.

Open Meeting Law complaint roils Rest of River Committee on GE's PCB dump site in Lee

Lee residents are not shy in expressing their fury over what they call a “toxic waste dump” planned to receive low-level toxins at a landfill near Woods Pond. A previous version of the Rest of River agreement in 2017 would have required that all PCB-contaminated material be trucked out of state.

The change in the river cleanup plan to include a landfill in Lee was announced in 2020 with little to no prior community input, according to opponents, and backed by the Rest of River Municipal Committee. Lee’s committee representative at the time voted in favor of the new agreement to stash the contaminated soil in Lee.

Since then, all of the select board members at the time have left the Lee board, with the new select board members unified against the landfill plan.

Town of Lee sues Bayer company over Monsanto's role in manufacturing PCBs sold to General Electric Co.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-4622.

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