Letter: GE settlement a hard-won victory for Housatonic River communities
To the editor:
While attending the Environmental Protection Agency's Monday event announcing the landmark Settlement Agreement to enhance and accelerate the Housatonic River cleanup, I found myself truly amazed.
I've been Sheffield's representative to the Rest of River committee since it was formed more than six years ago and attended almost every meeting. I've experienced the horrible, helpless feelings that collectively we would not be able to protect our communities and environment after the Environmental Appeals Board remanded the issue of out-of-state PCB disposal back to the EPA.
I knew the costs of appealing or defending any eventual EAB decision all the way to the Supreme Court was totally unaffordable. What were our odds of prevailing over GE with courts that are now more business-friendly and conservative while the EPA has become the Environmental Un-protection Agency? Would our five towns of less than 25,000 people be able to financially sustain the three- to seven-year effort? It was more likely we could end up with three toxic waste dumps with all the PCB contamination. Without the Settlement Agreement, the disposal issue would not have been resolved except by the courts, and none of the significant benefits that will now accrue to the river, our communities and all stakeholders would exist.
Hearing others speak of all of our collective accomplishment, I know we achieved more than we ever imagined for our towns.
I encourage everyone to read the Settlement Agreement and each participant's statement, as well as attend one of the three public information sessions, all at 6 p.m. — Wednesday at Lee Middle and High School, Feb. 20 at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington and March 5 at Herberg Middle School in Pittsfield.
I wanted more for our communities, but I knew I was not going to be able to get everything I wanted. There is a time to become realistic, recognize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and negotiate — and we had an incredible team! No one got all they wanted, but we all got more than we thought possible, including an end to over 20 years of the five Rest of River communities having no say in the cleanup. We negotiated and we accomplished. We delivered for our residents and communities.
And before it is said that we didn't do enough or didn't involve everyone, please consider the outcomes if we had not entered into this confidential mediation process and signed this incredible Settlement Agreement.
The writer is Sheffield's representative to the Housatonic Rest of River Committee and chairwoman of the Sheffield Select Board.
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