Pittsfield, a 'battle-weary PCB warrior,' to see $8M in GE cleanup deal
PITTSFIELD — The city’s Economic Development Fund will soon see an $8 million boost as part of a new cleanup deal with General Electric Co.
An agreement signed last week also stipulates cleanup arrangements for the rest of the Housatonic River, long contaminated with PCBs, and a series of Pittsfield enhancements negotiated by Mayor Linda Tyer.
She said at times it feels Pittsfield is a “battle-weary PCB warrior,” yet the new agreement offers resolution to the the decades-old saga.
“This is resolving a 20-year quandary,” the mayor said, pointing to 16 years of negotiations between GE and the Environmental Protection Agency and an additional four years of appeals.
Throughout that time, Tyer said, “PCBs have remained in that river without any resolution.”
Seat at the table
The new deal closes a long, painful chapter for post-industrial Pittsfield and the Berkshires, which have endured for decades in the shadow of General Electric Co.’s contaminated legacy. The company began dismantling its Pittsfield headquarters some 30 years ago, taking away thousands of jobs and leaving the Housatonic River a hazardous waste site.
The company agreed to a first wave of cleanup activities and mitigation money in the original consent decree from two decades ago. The latest agreement will dredge up the rest of the contaminated riverbed that runs through Pittsfield’s southern edge, Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield. Soils with low levels of contamination will be stored on the upper level of a landfill in Lee.
Tyer said the city will receive the $8 million as a lump sum from GE. The five towns will share a split of a $55 million payment from GE.
GE will cover the cleanup costs, as well as restore or improve any infrastructure strained in the process. The project is slated to take place over the next 10 to 15 years, officials said, but because the work begins upstream, the Pittsfield portion of the cleanup could be done within the next three to four years.
Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said her organization is happy to see the river will be cleaned. As it stands, “the river is basically an unlined, uncapped PCB reservoir.”
The negotiations involving GE, the EPA and five towns offered the city another opportunity to bring GE to the table, Tyer said. While the river cleanup is underway in neighborhoods along Holmes Road, Tyer said she knew it would be important that the city have say in how the company got in and out of sensitive areas.
It was important that the city be able to mitigate noise, air, odor and truck traffic, she said. To that end, she said the deal incorporates road restrictions within Pittsfield neighborhoods when it comes to the cleanup.
"EPA will solicit input on this plan from local governments, impacted residents/landowners, neighborhoods in the vicinity of the cleanup," reads a segment of the agreement. "GE agrees to work with the City, the Towns and the landowners to minimize the adverse impact of the work activities by, among others, coordinating work activities, scheduling and traffic routing."
Additionally, she said GE will attend to two large deteriorating buildings it still owns along Tyler Street Extension. The buildings will likely be demolished, she said. And the company will also address stormwater issues in the area and clear and do landscaping on large, abandoned parking lots off Tyler Street Extenstion — a plot that she said will play an important role in the redevelopment of Tyler Street.
While the five-town agreement was reached collectively, Tyer said the city ended up negotiating separately with GE in order to embed the Pittsfield-specific benefits.
“I think that we simply had different and varied enough interests that it was more appropriate for us to have a separate negotiation path,” Tyer said.
Amanda Drane can be contacted at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.
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