8 key takeaways from the Rest of River settlement agreement
Here are eight points of the Rest of River settlement agreement:
LOCAL BURIAL: EPA drops its objection to Berkshire County burial of PCB-tainted material, but with conditions. All soils and sediments with an average of more than 50 parts per million of PCB — the toxicity threshold under the Toxic Substances Control Act — will be sent to an out-of state disposal facility. The EPA calls that a “hybrid” approach.
CLEANUP EXPANDS: Savings from local burial in Lee will be used, in part, to extend the cleanup outlined in 2016 to 15 new locations in the Housatonic River. And sediments from as many as 100 acres that were to be capped, leaving tainted soils in place, will instead be removed.
LOCAL PAYMENTS: Other savings will be directed to the city of Pittsfield and to the five towns through which the Housatonic passes to the south. Lee and Lenox will each receive $25 million, with Great Barrington, Sheffield and Stockbridge each getting $1.5 million. The amounts are based on perceived local impact of the settlement. Pittsfield will get $8 million, as well as actions by GE to address blight around its former buildings and properties in the city.
SEDIMENT, BY THE NUMBERS: Of the roughly 1 million cubic yards of tainted material identified for removal in the EPA’s 2016 final permit (which GE contested), a minimum of 100,000 cubic yards will be taken to a federally approved disposal site. Of the remaining nine-tenths, the material will have an average PCB concentration of 20 to 25 ppm, the EPA says, below levels that categorize it as hazardous waste. Because the cleanup will be extended, more than 1 million cubic yards of material will be removed from the river.
OLD QUARRY, NEW ROLE: Though three sites had been identified as possible local burial locations, only one will be used: the former Lane Construction quarry in Lee. GE will acquire a 75-acre tract off Woodland Road and use it to build a 20-acre landfill.
SAVINGS TO GE: Shipping sediments out of state can cost as much as $500 per cubic yard. By sharply reducing that amount, GE stands to save as much as $200 million, though that’s a rough estimate provided by the EPA. Of that, about a third will be retained by the company, with other thirds being used (1) to expand the cleanup and (2) to pay $63 million to Pittsfield and the five towns. The total project cost to GE is now about $550 million, compared to the $613 million in the EPA's original 2016 cleanup plan.
TIMEFRAME AND OUTREACH: GE commits to getting started on planning right away, even before a revised permit is final. Also, it agrees to work with affected communities to ease local dislocations due to the project, originally expected to take 10 to 13 years. The EPA, for its part, commits to exploring alternative methods of reducing the harm of PCBs to the environment and health. The EPA hopes that, barring any legal challenge or other complications, actual work on the project can begin late this year or early in 2021.
ROAD IMPACTS: About 50,000 truckloads bearing contaminated soil and sediment will traverse roads in Pittsfield, Lenox and Lee on still to be designated routes. That's down from about 99,000 previously estimated, thanks to the hybrid site-disposal solution of 80 to 90 percent of the less toxic material to be stored in the Toxic Upland Facility at the former Lane quarry in Lee, while 10 to 20 percent will be shipped to an out-of-state, federally-licensed facility.
— Larry Parnass and Clarence Fanto
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