GE pays last installment for natural resources restoration along Housatonic River

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General Electric is ponying up $1.5 million for the fourth and final installment owed to restore natural resources along the Housatonic River Watershed damaged by five decades of PCB contamination.

The payment, reported in a joint announcement by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, brings the total assessment against GE for resource damages to $7,750,000.

The restoration paybacks are part of the 2000 consent decree, a legal document signed by the U.S., the state and the city of Pittsfield, among other stakeholders, laying out the groundwork for a PCB cleanup along the Housatonic from Pittsfield to hot spots downstream.

The company dumped PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — into the Housatonic River from its Pittsfield plant until 1979, when the federal government banned the substances, which are believed to cause cancer.

The restoration plan, now in draft form, involves six projects to be funded out of 10 grant requests totaling $2.2 million sent to the Massachusetts SubCouncil of the Housatonic River Natural Resource Trustees, representing MassDEP and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The trustees identified the following projects to share the total $1.5 million grant:

- A collaboration with partners, including the city of Pittsfield, Housatonic Valley Association, Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Foresight Land Services, to restore the trout habitat in Pittsfield's Churchill Brook ($240,000);

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- An environmental education program by Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries (Mass Audubon) with Housatonic Valley Association, focusing on multiple locations in the upper Housatonic River watershed ($442,938);

- A restoration of ecologically significant calcareous (chalky limestone calcium carbonate deposits) in Jug End Fen in Egremont; Schenob Brook in Sheffield; Agawam Lake in Great Barrington; Kampoosa Bog in Stockbridge; and Fairfield Brook in Richmond. ($340,000);

- Three proposed land acquisition projects, not yet identified because of the sensitive nature of real estate transactions ($110,100, $145,000 and $171,080).

Additional details, including the locations of the land purchases, will emerge in the final plan that officially confirms and designates the projects to be funded.

"These six projects will restore a variety of habitats for fish and wildlife in the Housatonic River watershed, improve recreational and environmental stewardship opportunities in the watershed and also help to reconnect people to the river," according to Tom Chapman, the wildlife service's New England Field Office project leader, in a statement released Friday.

"We believe these projects will restore a variety of habitats that will benefit fish and wildlife populations, as well as recreational users, and provide watershed education programs in several affected communities," MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg said in a prepared statement. "The Commonwealth is pleased with the variety and strength of the proposals for this round of funding for the Housatonic River Watershed work."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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