May 15, 2009
Pittsfield never cleaned up a great majority of its PCB toxic waste cancer causing pollutants. Instead of cleaning up the mess GE - America's most elite corporation - left behind, the former-Mayor, Gerry Doyle signed the Consent Decree in one of his many alcoholic stupors. The Consent Decree met the EPA's regulatory approval by capping -- NOT cleaning - much of the toxic waste that has caused cancer in thousands of local residents, including my mother. The caps only last from less than one day to a maximum of 25-years. Once one of the caps becomes defective due to a tear, leak, or age, the toxic waste continues to cause cancer in local residents by polluting the land and water around them. The biggest capped toxic waste site abuts an elementary school filled with thousands of local school children over a period of 25 years. Pittsfield - my native hometown - is a toxic waste site that needs Superfund status sooner rather than later. Mayor Jimmy Ruberto & co. took GE's $10 million bribe and gave it to their special interests instead of job creation. In fact, joblessness continues to be Pittsfield's reality, which will be followed by increasing numbers of cancer victims. Political Corruption - see Peter J "Lobbyist" Larkin - via special interests continues to be Pittsfield's hallmark signature!
- Jonathan Melle
"Transformer buildings next: PEDA still optimistic about redevelopment of property"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, May 15, 2009
PITTSFIELD — General Electric has begun the final phase of cleanup at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires, a job that involves demolishing several massive buildings at the company's former transformer manufacturing plant.
The work, conducted by local contractor J.H. Maxymillian Inc. of Pittsfield, began this week. It is expected to take between 12 and 14 months to complete, said William M. Hines Sr., the interim executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, which is charged with developing the 52-acre site.
Known as the "teens" area, it is a 15-acre parcel bordered by the CSX Railroad tracks to the south, Woodlawn Avenue to the west, and Tyler Street Extension to the north. It includes five buildings, some of them as large as 100,000 square feet, Hines said.
"The five buildings will be coming down," Hines said. "They will be chopped up and used for fill later on."
Once the buildings have been demolished, GE will perform any additional cleanup work before turning over the 15-acre parcel to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, or PEDA.
Under the terms of the 10-year-old consent decree with Pittsfield, GE is required to both demolish and remediate each section of the 52-acre site before the land transfers can occur.
GE has only transferred half of the site to PEDA. The remainder is located in the teens parcel and what is known as the "40s" area, which is located along Kellogg Street across from PEDA's executive offices. The 40s area has already been remediated, and Hines said the details of the transfer are being worked out.
"We're nearly at the point where they're ready to transfer it to us," Hines said. He said he expects PEDA to take control of the 40s area by the end of the summer.
General Electric Co. spokesman Peter O'Toole did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Hines called the work on the teens complex a "huge step" in the overall development of the Stanley Business Park. The acreage that GE has already turned over to PEDA is hilly, Hines said, while the land that includes the teens and 40s complex is flatter, which makes it more suitable to accommodate larger structures.
"That's why it's a huge step in the right direction," he said.
Although the demolition and remediation of the 26-acre parcel bordering East Street has taken place, workers are still performing infrastructure improvements that include removing storm drains, sewers and gas lines, Hines said. Those improvements are expected to be completed by January 2010, according to Hines.
The goal is to make that parcel "shovel-ready" for potential clients, Hines said.
As part of the consent decree, GE is also required to clean nearby Silver Lake. Although that project does not involve PEDA, Hines said it is a two-year project that will probably begin next year.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6224.
"Ellen Ruberto, mayor's wife, dies at age 62"
Berkshire Eagle Staff report, Wednesday, July 22, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Ellen Reynolds Ruberto, the wife of Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto, died peacefully at their home this morning after battling a rare form of cancer, the mayor's office has confirmed. She was 62.
Diagnosed in 2005, Mrs. Ruberto underwent treatment for the cancer, and later was given a clean bill of health. The cancer recurred in 2007.
In May, Mrs. Ruberto accompanied her husband to City Hall, hand in hand, as he took out nomination papers to seek a fourth two-year term in November. It was a moment that captured her endurance and displayed the strong bond that existed between them.
The Rubertos made it clear that they made decisions in running for mayor together, and considered her illness in choosing to run for election.
In 2007, when the couple took out mayoral nomination papers at City Hall, Mrs. Ruberto said they "take things as they come." The "best course of action was to move forward," the mayor said the night he was re-elected in 2007.
Married 40 years in August, the couple graduated from St. Joseph's High School in 1964. They have no children.
Details for services will be announced this week.
A statement from the mayor's office said "the family asks that the public respects their privacy during this time."
July 22, 2009
My heart goes out to Ellen Reynolds Ruberto and her family. She was a very nice person. I always sent her my regards. My mom had cancer twice -- once in 1990 & again in 2006 -- and I am thankful my mother survived this horrible disease. Pittsfield has a terrible toxic waste problem left behind by Jack Welch's GE in the form of PCBs that causes cancer in local residents. I have read, heard and saw thousands of local residents contract cancer, including my mother twice over. Pittsfield needs to clean up its toxic waste sites! Mayor Jimmy Ruberto should NOT have put his wife under the stresses and rigors of politics. He should have taken care of her instead. While I am saddened by Ellen's passing, I am upset with Pittsfield's cancer cases caused by left behind toxic waste sites and the Mayor who put his political interests above the needs of his suffering wife.
- Jonathan Melle
Some community leaders believe signs of life should have emerged by now in the William Stanley Business Park. Half of the 52-acre site has been under the control of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA) for four years. (Holly Pelcyznski / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"William Stanley Business Park: A blank space"
The Berkshire Eagle, By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 7/26/2009
PITTSFIELD -- In drawings and diagrams, the William Stanley Business Park resembles a college campus, with attractive brick buildings laid out on landscaped sites that are bordered by green, leafy trees.
This is how the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA) envisioned the business park when the General Electric Co. agreed to turn 52 acres of its former transformer facility over to the quasi-public agency formed by the state Legislature in 1998 to develop the parcel.
A decade later, that vision for the business park -- and the hundreds of new jobs that could have come with it -- are still just concepts. Discussions have taken place with prospective tenants, but nothing has panned out, leaving the park as vacant as it was 11 years ago.
Even though PEDA’s acting board chairman says that half of the park’s land is ready to be built on, there hasn’t been one nail hammered on new construction, and some community leaders believe the organization should have done more with the park by now. Potential tenants cite a host of problems -- from high costs to unbuildable soil to stringent building restrictions by PEDA -- that have kept them away.
This is just one more challenge amid the recession for the William Stanley Business Park, already saddled with the name "brownfield," a term that refers to former industrial complexes such as GE’s transformer facility, where redevelopment is hampered by environmental contamination, in this case PCBs.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are suspected of causing cancer in humans and have been linked to developmental problems in children.
On the site, 26 acres have been under PEDA’s control for four years. The remaining acres are controlled by GE, which is expected to turn over an additional 15-acre parcel to the agency in the fall. Those 41 acres have been cleaned of PCBs in accordance with state and federal levels regarding commercial and industrial development.
The demolition of buildings on the final 11 acres of the 52-acre Stanley site began in May and was expected to take 12 to 14 months.
Community leaders who are skeptical about PEDA’s role in the park cite the lack of tenants; goals and projections that fell short; and a lack of communication between the board and the public regarding the board’s activities at the former GE site, which runs approximately from East Street north to Tyler Street Extension.
"How many times have we heard that this is going to happen and that is going to happen, and it hasn’t happened," Ward 5 City Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop said.
Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, at a PEDA briefing at a City Council meeting in April, questioned whether PEDA’s six board members -- Mick Callahan, Ben Kaplan, Sharon Harrison, MCLAPresident Mary Grant, board chairman Gary S. Grunin, and Mayor James M. Ruberto -- have what it takes to develop the site.
"Maybe this task is too large for the current makeup of the board, and more than the board can handle," Bianchi, now a candidate for mayor, told The Eagle in June. "Do we have the right people? Do we have enough people? Do they have the right capabilities?"
Gerald S. Doyle Jr. -- Pittsfield’s mayor when PEDA was formed -- and former Pittsfield-based state Rep. Peter J. Larkin also said they thought redevelopment would be further along than it is now.
Ruberto and William M. Hines Sr. -- PEDA’s interim executive director -- say they understand the anxiety over the lack of development at the William Stanley Business Park.
"Nobody’s more frustrated than the two guys in this room," Ruberto said during a joint interview with Hines this summer. "Nobody’s more frustrated than me. But I truly believe that we are going to be creating the kinds of partnerships that are going to be necessary to make that site eminently successful."
"I think maybe we’ve done a poor job in overselling the time factor of getting all this transition done and turning this into a park," said Hines, who as PEDA’s leader earns $5,000 a month in funding supplied by GE. "And I think we’ve done a bad job in aligning expectations with reality."
Larkin said he believed that, within three to five years of PEDA’s inception, the William Stanley Business Park would have enough tenants to create 500 jobs.
"Certainly everyone is disappointed that there hasn’t been more development," said Larkin, now a consultant for the biotechnology industry. "That being said, people have been trying hard."
Under an agreement finalized between GE and the city of Pittsfield in 2000, redevelopment of the business park includes the cleanup of chemical contamination, the demolition of decrepit buildings, and landscaping improvements.
Since Hines -- the retired CEO of Pittsfield-based Interprint Inc. -- replaced Thomas E. Hickey Jr. as PEDA’s executive director on an interim basis in February 2009, Ruberto said the board has developed subcommittees designed to make it easier for information about the business park to reach the public. PEDA also has released a new marketing and communications plan, along with a new Web site, williamstanleybusinesspark.com, that are designed to make the business park more visible.
But unsuccessful attempts to lure new tenants -- including local companies Sinicon Plastics, Unistress Corp., Nuclea Biomarkers LLC, and Sabic Innovative Plastics -- have been the norm during the existence of PEDA, which is not overseen by any state agency but like other state redevelopment agencies is required to file yearly reports with the state auditor’s office regarding its actions and expenditures.
Glen Briere, a spokesman for the auditor’s office, said he isn’t aware of any problems with PEDA’s previously filed reports.
But a lack of problems with the state hasn’t translated into success with the business community.
Two years ago, Unistress agreed to build a multimillion-dollar metal fabrication facility at the business park, but backed out a month later when it was determined the soil wouldn’t support the building without a significant additional investment.
Last year, the House and Senate approved $6.5 million for an incubator building at the Stanley Business Park as part of a $1 billion life-sciences bill proposed by Gov. Deval L. Patrick.
Hines, however, said the funding is tied up in the Legislature because the state was unable to find investors to purchase bonds to finance any of the projects that were scheduled to be funded.
"With [the] economy now in the state, I think we would be hard-pressed to get that money released with or without a bond for this park," Hines said.
Regarding business-leader claims that PEDA has too many building restrictions, Hines said: "PEDA doesn’t require businesses to put up a specific kind of building, [but] we have [certain] expectations."
As for the future, Hines said a regional telecommunications company and a firm that manufactures pre-engineered homes have expressed an interest in relocating to the park. He said the telecommunications company is interested in building a 10,000-square-foot structure to accommodate its technical and customer support operations with 20 or 30 employees on a site bordered by East Street and Woodlawn Avenue.
"I hope later this year to have the foundation started for that first building," Hines said. "That’s a hope. A lot of things have to fall into place for that to happen. But if and when it happens, I expect it to happen this year."
Hines and Ruberto said PEDA also plans to renew its partnership with the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, which provides financial tools and real estate expertise for former industrial sites through its Brownfields Redevelopment Fund.
Also, PEDA and the Berkshire Economic Development Corp. have started working together to recruit new tenants, and Patrick has included the William Stanley as one of the state’s "municipal growth districts," which means prospective tenants are eligible for incentives and a streamlined permitting process if they agree to relocate there.
BEDC President David M. Rooney said his organization has a variety of financial incentives -- including investment and tax-credit programs, along with workforce training and hiring grants -- that it could offer.
"This doesn’t have to be five more years before there’s a successful tenant on the site," Rooney said. "Now that you’ve got a site that’s got the infrastructure in place and is ready [to go], we can really aggressively market it."
When PEDA decided not to renew Hickey’s contract in January 2009, Hines said the agency needed an executive director who had more expertise in marketing, attracting businesses and accessing economic incentives, rather than in technical processes and engineering.
Hickey, who had been PEDA’s executive director since the agency’s inception, declined to comment on his departure from PEDA.
While the inability to meet goals and projections are viewed by some as a lack of progress, PEDA board members say they have spent the past decade navigating the 52-acre William Stanley site through the complex process required to prepare the land for development.
"Everybody wants to see something happen," said Callahan, the only original member of PEDA’s board. "But I think what ends up happening is you need to position the site to have conversations to that prospect."
Barbara Landau, the PEDA board’s environmental lawyer, said the cleanup of the former GE site is difficult because of the number of agencies involved.
Besides GE and PEDA, decisions have to be approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection and federal and state environmental agencies.
"In Massachusetts, it is one of the more complicated ones," she said, referring to brownfield sites in general. "Multiple parties are involved. There’s a lot of unknowns in the ground. There are different goals among each of the parties. ... It’s not like we’ve done this before."
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: email@example.com, or (413) 496-6224
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, Sunday, July 26, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Patrick J. Muraca, the president of one of the four local companies that discussed relocating to the vacant William Stanley Business Park, said talks ended because his company would have been required to sign a 99-year lease and construct a building it could not afford.
The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA), formed in 1998, is charged with developing the business park, located at the General Electric Co.'s former transformer plant, a site that runs roughly from East Street north to Tyler Street Extension.
A large part of PEDA's mission is to bring tenants to the park, which is undergoing the demolition of decrepit buildings, landscaping improvements, and a cleanup of chemical contamination.
Although PEDA has held discussions with companies from Berkshire County and beyond, no businesses have relocated to William Stanley since PEDA was formed.
"It looked as though there were a lot of infrastructure issues, and that it would cost $5 million to build a building," said Muraca, the leader of Nuclea Biomarkers LLC, which moved most of its operations from Pittsfield to Worcester late last year.
Muraca's company, now known as Nuclea Biotechnologies LLC, still maintains an office in Pittsfield.
"It was because of certain restrictions that PEDA was putting on you," Muraca said of the failed talks. "You had to have a certain look, you had to have a certain building. They didn't want to have it look like a hodgepodge of different buildings, but it added a significant cost to the work."
PEDA's interim executive director, William M. Hines Sr., said companies aren't required to sign a 99-year lease at the park, but can lease parts of their structures amid time limits that are open to interpretation.
Hines said PEDA doesn't require businesses to put up a specific kind of building, but added: "We have expectations. You just don't throw up an old building without enhancements."
He said negotiations involving a building for Nuclea with Muraca never took place because, "He had no business plan, and his investors in New York never came forward."
Hines said PEDA also held discussions with Sabic Innovative Plastics about six months ago when the company was considering moving its polymer processing facility to the William Stanley from Building 100 on the GE site, a distance of less than a mile.
According to Hines, Sabic decided not to move the facility because it was less expensive to keep it where it was.
Sabic officials could not be reached for comment about the decision.
In June 2007, Unistress Corp. announced plans to build a multimillion-dollar fabrication facility at William Stanley, but backed out a month later when tests revealed that the soil on Silver Lake Boulevard would not support the structure without an underground support system.
Company officials determined the construction project would take too long and cost an additional $200,000.
PEDA also held discussions with Sinicon Plastics Inc. of Pittsfield, which has outgrown its current 12,000-square-foot facility on West Housatonic Street. But that company decided to relocate to Dalton instead.
Sinicon President David K. Allen said the move to Dalton, which he expects will occur in August, is "a better setup for me" because he purchased a 35,000-square-foot building that will solve his company's future expansion needs.
"If I had built a 15,000- or 25,000-square-foot building and wanted to expand it, it would have been more expensive to do," Allen said of the possibility of relocating to William Stanley. "And I have eight acres of land.
"It wasn't like it didn't work out," Allen added. "Things were working in tandem, and I decided to take this one."
PEDA-board chairman Gary S. Grunin said building sizes at the William Stanley Business Park depend on the location of the building lot, the company's operation, and the number of jobs a firm would bring to the area.
While the construction of a 100,000-square-foot building at the park is possible, PEDA is mainly interested in buildings in the 20,000 to 25,000 range, Grunin said.
July 27, 2009
A lot of infrastructure issues at the PEDA site makes the costs exceed the benefits of doing business there. It is basic economics to say if costs exceed benefits then it is inefficient to do business. The PEDA officials have been talking about economic incentives to attract business investment, but has not resolved the high costs associated with the complex and many infrastructure issues at the PEDA site. They put the cart before the horse!
- Jonathan Melle
"PEDA's past and future"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, Tuesday, July 28, 2009
To read the PEDA timeline in Sunday's Berkshire Eagle is to grasp the frustrating nature of the development of the much-hyped William Stanley Business Park on General Electric's former property in Pittsfield. Progress in clearing and developing the site has come with painstaking slowness, in large part because as a brownfield, an alphabet soup of agencies has input in what goes on there. The result, with the poor economy factored in, is that relatively little has taken place.
It is a painstaking process, but much of the 52 acre site has been cleared of PCBs, the contaminant that was long associated with Pittsfield. Most of the decaying buildings that gave that section of the city a firebombed-Dresden appearance are mercifully gone. But that is where the park is stalled more than a decade since the PCB consent decree made it a reality. The promise of new businesses and the jobs that go with them is still unrealized.
We agree with interim Executive Director William M. Hines Sr. in Sunday's Eagle that the board oversold the park's ability to draw new businesses given the realities of the slow process, creating expectations that could not be met. But the board of the Pittsfield Executive Development Authority waited a long time, until earlier this year, to seek someone with marketing expertise for the executive director's job long held by Thomas Hickey. The board should at least consider someone from outside the Berkshires for this position because while the PEDA hierarchy has consisted of accomplished people, it has been insular in nature as well. This official should be hired in large part on the basis of communication skills, as PEDA's actions and strategy have too long been a mystery to elected officials and residents of the city alike.
The board will need to lower its expectations as to the type of company it can attract, at least for now. The brutal economy has made it more difficult to attract businesses over the past couple of years, compounding problems Pittsfield faces, such as a poor road network and rail access that is lacking compared to potential rivals.
It is encouraging that PEDA is working with the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation in seeking new tenants. Governor Patrick's inclusion of the park as one of the state's municipal growth districts should help reduce the red tape that so frustrates communities and businesses.
And while the park hasn't gained much over the last decade, it hasn't lost anything, either. All the drawbacks to the facility aside in terms of soil difficulties in some areas and access to it, the decaying buildings symbolic of another era are largely gone and Pittsfield has a prime piece of industrial real estate in its center possessing considerable potential. If PEDA begins to reach that potential in the years ahead, its slow start will be forgotten.
Re: GE has paid Peter Larkin $192,521 in lobbyist fees over the past 3 years!
July 28, 2009
Money, money, money, MONEY! That is what Lobbyist Larkin has received from GE for creating a failed entity named PEDA!
PAYMENTS TO PETER J LARKIN FROM GE:
2006 - General Electric Co. - $14,500.00.
2007 - General Electric Co. - $58,000.00.
2008 - General Electric Co. - $119,521.00.
Over the past 3 years, GE gave Peter J Larkin a whopping $192,021.00.
Peter J Larkin was the force behind the FLAWED consent decree that is now law. The problem with the consent decree is that the caps are a short-term solution to a long-term problem. The caps only last about a generation or 24-year lifespan. After the caps wear out, the toxic waste called PCB chemicals will continue to pollute the land, water and people of Pittsfield.
- Jonathan Melle
Jack Welch's financial legacy as the famed CEO for GE
Jack Welch has a DARK SIDE! His decisions were extremely economic and financial (or banal) without any morality and humanity to the people and communities he irreparably harmed. Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is a case in point. Jack Welch pulled a great majority of GE's business out of Pittsfield and killed its local economy in the process.
Moreover, Jack Welch signed a consent decree that was FRAUDULENT on so many terrible levels. GE left behind TOXIC WASTE in the form of cancer causing PCBs in Pittsfield and like areas. Pittsfield colluded with GE to cap -- NOT clean -- the numerous toxic waste sites. The crux of the problem with the consent decree is that the caps will last about a generation and then become as useless as a used condom. Around the years 2025 - 2030, Pittsfield residents will be exposed to lethal amounts of GE's left behind PCBs and even more local people will suffer and die from CANCER because of Pittsfield's deal with the Devil...excuse me, Jack Welch.
"Grant leaves PEDA board"
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, Wednesday, July 29, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Citing the responsibilites that go with her job, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary Grant recently stepped down from the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority's Board of Directors.
PEDA's interim Executive Director William M. Hines Sr. said Grant had told him in early July that she would be stepping down. The board hopes to have Grant's replacement in place within the next few months, Hines said.
Appointed to the board by former Pittsfield Mayor Sara Hathaway, Grant had attended only one PEDA board meeting between January 2008 and May 2009, according to the board's minutes. She attended the board's meeting last September via conference call.
In a recent interview, Grant said conficts with her schedule as MCLA's president had prevented her from spending more time with the PEDA board.
"Board work is demanding," Grant said. "If you can't put the energy into it, then it's time to step aside."
Grant said she also decided to step aside because her role in providing an educational training component to the PEDA board has yet to be realized.
"We really haven't gotten to that piece," Grant said.
A quasi-public agency, PEDA was formed 11 years ago to develop the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires. The 52-acre parcel currently has no tenants.
Hines said Grant's absences didn't affect the PEDA board's operations because there were always enough members in attendance for the meetings to legally take place. "It didn't effect the quorums," he said.
According to the organization's bylaws, appointments to the PEDA board are brought forward by the mayor and require approval by the City Council before they can take effect. Hines said he has yet to talk with Mayor James M. Ruberto about filling the vacancy.
"I would say that we will fill that role within the next couple of months," Hines said.
In April, the City Council approved Ruberto's appointment of Ben J. Kaplan to the PEDA board. Kaplan, who is a member of Pittsfield's Zoning Board of Appeals and works for a marketing firm, replaced Osmin Alvarez, the CEO of Boxcar Media of North Adams.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com - (413) 496-6224.
"Mixed signals block funds"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, August 1, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority has yet to submit a detailed proposal to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center for an incubator building at the William Stanley Business Park, according to Susan R. Windham-Bannister, MLSC'S president and CEO.
Gov. Deval L. Patrick's $1 billion life-sciences bill, approved last year, included a $6.5 million earmark for the incubator site, but PEDA has not received any funding.
PEDA was formed in 1998 to develop the 52-acre business park, but it has remained vacant.
On Friday, PEDA's interim executive director, William M. Hines Sr., said he was confused about Windham-Bannister's comment, because PEDA had submitted detailed architectural drawings of the incubator building to the state Legislature in order to obtain the earmark on the bill.
But Angus McQuilken, the MLSC's vice president of communications, said those who already have received earmarks are required to submit a second detailed proposal to the Life Sciences Center so it can determine which projects are considered "shovel-ready."
"First you need to submit the project to the Legislature," McQuilken said Friday. "The next step is to submit detailed information to the center so that we can vet it and evaluate it."
Hines could not be reached for additional comment Friday, July 31, 2009.
The Life Sciences Bill includes $500 million to fund a variety of capital projects over the next 10 years, McQuilken said. The bill already has $300 million in earmarks, including the $6.5 million slated for PEDA's incubator building. He said the MLSC needs to determine how each project fits into the funding for its capital campaign.
"We have not had a conversation with them [PEDA] yet, which says to me that they're not quite ready to go," Windham-Bannister said this week. "A lot of projects have not approached the center yet."
"I think PEDA needs to flesh out the proposal more before it can receive the funding from the Life Sciences Center," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield.
Given the current recession, Downing said the state's borrowing capacity remains difficult. He said investors are more willing to purchase bonds to finance roads and schools, than to finance economic development projects.
"I think the Life Sciences Center is trying to be cautious and prudent with taxpayer dollars," Downing said.
The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center is a quasi-public agency created by the Legislature in June 2006 to promote the life sciences within the state. It is charged with investing in life-sciences research and economic development, which includes making financial investments in public and private institutions.
Windham-Bannister said the Life Sciences Center has invested $48.5 million in public funds in a variety of projects during fiscal 2009, which attracted $359 million in matching investment and created 950 jobs. In fiscal 2010, the center plans to award $25 million in tax incentives, but additional funding has yet to be determined.
Berkshire County's open spaces, natural resources and skilled workforce, along with the presence of a major medical facility in Berkshire Medical Center, make the area attractive to the biotechnology industry, Windham-Bannister said.
"Restrictions cripple Stanley Park"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 1, 2009
After reading your July 26 article about the blank space in the Stanley Business Park, I would like to comment on another blank in the whole situation. Your article details the allowed types of development agreed upon with GE when this proposal was conceived. I was shocked to see that the site was not to be used for the purpose of heavy manufacturing or in the manufacture of large equipment. Only light assembly was to be considered. Who agreed to this, the board of directors of PEDA and Pittsfield's city fathers? What were they thinking?
In doing this they take away all possibility of good-paying skilled jobs for welders, machinists and assembly types of people who with the support of well-paid and educated design and engineering types make the core group of citizens that enable a community to thrive economically. The allowed uses offer limited opportunities for skilled labor. Frankly, they all appear to be some kind of fantasy world job.
The last thing we need to be is a center for financial services. We are in a recession which will last another four years. Data processing and software development are nice work if you can get it, but I don't think we will see someone hanging that kind of shingle out.
How about a product manufacturer and distributor? How about a world class recycled paper mill? I wonder what kind of deals were made behind closed doors years ago to insure that Pittsfield and the surrounding towns would never again be known as a center for world class heavy manufacturing.
MARK A HANFORD
"Kennedy kept in touch"
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, Thursday, August 27, 2009
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy had a well-deserved national political reputation due to his long tenure in the Senate. But his political influence was assuredly felt in Berkshire County.
"A lot of people go to Washington and want to be an international senator, and be senator of everything but their states," said North Adams Mayor John Barrett III. "He achieved that. But he never forgot about the cities and towns like North Adams."
Kennedy died on Tuesday night following a 15-month battle with brain cancer. On Wednesday, state and local politicians said the Bay State's senior senator was a major influence on several pieces of Berkshire legislation, including the 1998 consent decree that required the General Electric Co. to clean up PCB contamination in Pittsfield. Kennedy also helped defeat a federal initiative in 1995 that would have replaced the $1 bill with a coin. Its passage would have cost Crane & Co. in Dalton, which manufactures the paper used in U.S. currency, some 200 jobs.
"We would have had to most likely close a mill," said Crane & Co. CEO Charles Kittredge. "About 40 percent of the currency paper that we make is that denomination."
‘Could always go to Ted'
State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, the dean of the county's legislative delegation with 23 years at the Statehouse, said Kennedy was as adept at local issues as he was with national ones.
"I think he's always kept in touch with what was going on out here," the North Adams Democrat said. "Whenever we needed something, we could always go to Ted Kennedy."
In 2006, Kennedy helped the Pittsfield Public Schools receive a highly competitive $3 million federal grant intended to create safe learning environments that promote healthy childhood development and prevent drug use among youths. Pittsfield was the only city in the Northeast to receive the grant that year.
The Safe School/Healthy Students Initiative also provided a steady stream of funding for the Juvenile Resource Center, which is located in the old county jail on Second Street.
"We kept [the JRC] going prior to that with criminal justice funds, which are always very, very iffy," said Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano Jr., who was chairman of the Pittsfield School Committee when the three-year federal grant was awarded.
"It's still in existence today," Massimiano said, "but without Ted Kennedy's intervention, the JRC would be closed."
Brought sides to the table
The negotiations that led to the crafting of the consent decree were highly contentious partly because 11 different agencies were involved in the discussions. GE actually walked away from the negotiating table six months before an agreement was reached.
Former state Rep. Peter J. Larkin, who sponsored the landmark brownfields legislation that made the consent decree possible, said Kennedy's intervention kept everyone at the bargaining table.
"It fell apart on a couple of occasions," said Larkin, who is now a lobbyist for the biotechnology industry. "He had the ability to speak to both sides on a contentious issue and bring out the best in everyone."
Referring to Kennedy's part in the negotiations, Larkin told The Eagle in 1998 that "when we needed a lion, he was it."
On Wednesday, Larkin chuckled when reminded of that statement, saying there was a lot of truth in that remark. "He was it," Larkin said.
Kennedy also sponsored myriad legislation at the national level, particularly in health care and education, that filtered down to residents of the Berkshires.
"In so many ways, people never even knew about how it affected their lives," Barrett said.
State Rep. Denis E. Guyer, D-Dalton, who was employed at Crane & Co. during the coin/currency crisis 14 years ago, said Kennedy's efforts to raise the minimum wage, his support of elderly housing, his efforts to provide health coverage to people who have lost their jobs, and his backing of funding for veterans' programs such as Soldier On in Pittsfield, also affected county residents.
"I think the fights that Senator Kennedy fought on behalf of the people of Berkshire County are some of the things that are going to carry on," Guyer said.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, referred to Kennedy as "a champion of the middle class," and that his passing means the Berkshires have lost a "very dear friend."
"Despite the fact that Senator Kennedy experienced some very public tragedies in his family, he stayed the course in public service," Pignatelli said. "You don't have to agree with his politics, but you have to respect his commitment to serve for so many years."
Alfred Shogry, the president of the Berkshire Central Labor Council, said Kennedy had the ability to champion union causes while simultaneously promoting business.
"All of our issues he carried them right through," said Shogry, who was president of a local labor union when Kennedy visited their union hall on Tyler Street in the 1980s. The union named the hall after Kennedy's brother, former President John F. Kennedy.
"When he said he was going to do something, he did," Shogry said "Anything with collective bargaining, he was right there for us. He proved his loyalty to the workers without hurting business. Those things stuck with me, you know."
A personal touch
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, saw a personal side of Kennedy that few people see. He said Kennedy called from Washington to speak to his mother the night that his father, Berkshire County District Attorney Gerard D. Downing, died suddenly in December 2003, and later sent him a handwritten note "that I still keep to this day."
Downing was a staff assistant in U.S. Rep. John W. Olver's Washington office when his father passed away.
"To think that someone with that many demands and that much power and the ability to affect people's lives called my mother and wrote me a note when I was only a staff assistant," Downing said. "That stuck with me."
Barrett said Kennedy performed a similar service when his wife, Eileen, died of breast cancer in June 1990.
"The day I lost my wife, he called that evening and let me know that he was thinking of me," Barrett said. "I couldn't deliver 10 votes for him at the time. But he took the time."
"He's sent me 60 or 70 notes over the years," Barrett added. "He always signed it with, "be good, my old friend."
Re: The Berkshire Eagle Editors are misleading about The Consent Decree!
While I believe that U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy helped a lot of people, and contributed to the political needs of rural Berkshire County, The Berkshire Eagle is dishonest to state: "...the 1998 consent decree that required the General Electric Co. to clean up PCB contamination in Pittsfield, Massachusetts..." is totally misleading! A great majority of the toxic waste PCB pollution in Pittsfield was capped, not cleaned. The Consent Decree was a band aid to a major injury that left behind many tons of toxic waste PCB pollution in Pittsfield. The caps do not last long, while the pollution does. The caps can become ineffective at any time, from day one to year 25. The caps need constant, daily monitoring! The Consent Decree also did NOT cover all of the PCB pollution in Pittsfield. It also left huge swaths of land and water south of Pittsfield to the Long Island Sound in Connecticut exposed to PCBs. As much as I hate to say it, maybe it is karma that Ted Kennedy died of cancer. He, along with other local, state and federal politicians, and GE executives such as then GE CEO Jack Welch, did a bad, dangerous and fraudulent thing when they concocted the bogus Consent Decree!
- Jonathan Melle
Work continues at the William Stanley Business Park in Pittsfield. Officials from the Troy, N.Y-based CornerStone Telephone Co. say they are willing to locate a $5 million office structure at the business park if the federal government agrees to provide financial support. (Darren Vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"Park could see tenant"
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, 9/17/2009
PITTSFIELD -- The CornerStone Telephone Co. is willing to locate a $5 million, 13,000-square-foot data center and office structure in the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires if the federal government provides financial support.
Officials of the Troy, N.Y. firm told the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority’s Board of Directors on Wednesday that the company would be willing to construct the operation if the federal government approves a $3.7 million stimulus grant for the project. The data center and office would bring up to 30 jobs to the area within three years, CornerStone officials said.
If the project goes through, CornerStone would become the Stanley Business Park’s first tenant. PEDA, formed in 1998, is charged with developing the Stanley Business Park, which is located on part of the General Electric Co.’s former transformer facility.
Five shovel ready building sites are expected to be available at the Stanley Business Park by January, PEDA’s Interim Executive Director William M. Hines Sr. has said.
Rick Drake, CornerStone’s CFO, said the new building will allow the sale of a variety of services, including broadband interconnection, network traffic and router management, trouble dispatch and repair, billing and collecting services, data storage and disaster recovery services.
He said the Pittsfield location is perfect for attracting industry customers from New York City, Boston, Springfield, Albany, N.Y. and Hartford, Conn.
"We think this location is key, and we believe the project is needed," he said.
Drake referred to the project as the Western Massachusetts Broadband Operations Center.
Dan Yamin, founder and CEO of CornerStone, said this operation would allow them to bring their broadband management needs into their own building rather than paying another company for the service.
"This would be a new business for us -- with it we can bring our services in-house in addition to bringing in a sales staff to market our services," he said.
Much of the need for these services is driven by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, which has applied for federal funding to install a fiber optic system throughout Western Massachusetts that would provide high speed Internet access to the entire four county region. This broadband infrastructure will generate more broadband activity and the need for commercial-level broadband management services, which CornerStone hopes to provide, Drake said.
Growth for the data center operation will happen quickly during the first three years, as different phases of the fiber ring comes online, Yamin added.
Jobs at the data center will include network engineers, a position that pays up to $100,000 per year, and network technicians, a job that pays up to $60,000 per year.
There will also be a need for customer service and help desk specialists and back office help, which pay up to $30,000.
The grant application for $3.7 million from the Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program was supported in writing by the City of Pittsfield, Berkshire Health Systems, the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation, the Richmond public schools, U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, State Rep. Christopher N. Speranzo, State Rep. Denis E. Guyer, and State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing. The grant funding is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Even if the grant is approved, the company would still need to secure an additional $2 million in funding, Drake noted.
If all funding is secured, construction is expected to start during the second quarter of 2010. The building will be fully operational by early 2011.
CornerStone is the same company that established a local presence last March when it purchased Richmond Telephone and its subsidiary Richmond Networx.
During his presentation, Drake noted that CornerStone was founded in 2002 and had achieved positive cash flow by early 2003. The company had total revenues of $26.2 million in 2007, $30.5 million in 2008 and a projection of $38 million in 2009.
Berkshire Economic Development Corporation President David M. Rooney said CornerStone and PEDA have been working together on the idea of bringing a facility at the business park for about three months.
"We think this project makes a lot of sense -- it creates local jobs, regional business opportunities and activity at the William Stanley Business Park," he said.
To reach Scott Stafford: firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Path toward a better PEDA"
By Rinaldo Del Gallo, The Berkshire Eagle, September 23, 2009
This column is intended to offer positive and upbeat suggestions for PEDA's future.
1. Restructuring of PEDA Board: We need to amend the Pittsfield ordinance that creates the PEDA board, and if necessary, seek modification of the state enabling act. The "independent agency" concept simply did not bring about the needed accountability and transparency. The executive director of PEDA should directly report to the mayor and City Council. PEDA is not a private business and giving it the trappings of a private business has proved fruitless. Board members should be removable at the discretion of the mayor and City Council.
2. A new board and executive director: It is now time for new direction. Ideally, the new board will have a business or general practice lawyer, an environmental lawyer, someone with environmental and civil engineering expertise, more than one person with experience in industrial real estate, someone with experience in finance and venture capital, someone with experience in marketing, and several people with experience in economic development. The executive director must have a background in industrial park development, ideally with industrial parks that were formally brown fields, and ideally would also have an economic development background.
3. Fort Devens Model and Massachusetts Development: One of the most successful industrial developments has been Fort Devens, Massachusetts, which is a former army base and a Superfund site. It is now teeming with quality employers. Massachusetts Development has made Fort Devens the success it is today. If Massachusetts Development is not working for us the way they did for Fort Devens, we need to find out why and rectify the problem, perhaps with the help of the governor and Berkshire delegation.
4. Get the facility ready: Unfortunately, we are selling something yet to be. Those fancy schematics need to become realities. The consent decree was signed a decade ago. According to a recent discussion with board member Gary Grunin, GE is responsible for demolition and removal of old buildings. There must be some contractual obligation the Consent Decree that bound GE, Pittsfield, and the EPA. If there was no express time table for demolition, courts will usually impute a reasonable period. An attorney needs to look into the matter.
If GE and the EPA are constantly fighting and preventing demolition and clean up, it is time for court intervention. We should drastically reducing spending money on executive directors and marketing efforts until we have a usable facility to prevent further dissipation of limited funds. Until we have an inventory of available, fully serviced sites, we might want to hold on to these precious PEDA funds.
5: Account for money spent: According to the mayor's office, of the $15.3 million set aside for PEDA (not to be confused with the $10 million of the GE Economic Development funds), only $6.5 million is left. This money should be reviewed by an independent auditor to make sure that it is not allocated for expenses that GE was to pickup. A breakdown of the expenditures needs to be more accessible. The loss of the type of line item review usually associated with government expenditures is one of the most disconcerting aspects of the entire project. PEDA is quickly becoming just another industrial park without significant incentives because the money is disappearing.
6: Foster greater transparency and awareness: Someone at PEDA must become a member of Pittsfield Community Television, get a camera, put it on a tripod, put a microphone on the table, and start taping the meetings. They could have PEDA meetings in the City Council chambers for a more professional appearance. There should also be quarterly reports to the Pittsfield City Council both orally and with short write-ups. Annual reports should be available online and at City Hall. There should be annual or biannual town meetings with a presentation and Q&A sessions to foster community awareness and support.
7. Web site and incentive packages: Why come to the William Stanley Business Park? The answer should be simple and clear and concise, with room for some flexibility based upon various criteria, and the information should be massively disseminated. A 25-year-old with a marketing degree should be able to make a sensible presentation to corporate prospects.
Why go to Fort Devens?: "Expedited permitting including a 90-day max on the permit process and one stop-shopping, open spaces, low real estate taxes, its own municipal utility services which offers highly competitive utility rates, and easy access to key labor pools." Why go to PEDA? I do not know, and that is a serious problem.
Instead, there has been such an emphasis on "flexibility" and "individual needs," we have no known coherent set of incentives for people to locate here. We need to implement and make known one-stop shopping for permits, a 90-day max on permits, as well as establish the criteria for tax rebates or forgiveness, financing, and other incentive packages. To PEDA's credit, there have been some improvements in the permitting department, but this has been abysmally advertised making one wonder if the program really is in place.
Our failure to create a coherent set of incentives based upon given criteria has hindered lead development. There is no reason to put us on any initial list of considered sites. Known incentives would give a reason for someone to stop by a booth at a tradeshow or respond to an advertisement. An approach of having known incentives based upon known criteria would allow present citizens and indigenous corporations to be ambassadors and salespeople with something to sell other than scenic beauty and cultural amenities.
Better still, we could offer some type of cash reward system, as some councilors are suggesting, for those companies or individuals that do introduce future tenants.
8. Federal and state cooperation: Finally, we will need to cultivate state and federal cooperation to provide additional tax incentives, funding, and support services.
A writer and attorney, Rinaldo Del Gallo is an occasional Eagle contributor.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Gregory Bialecki talks with PEDA officials and others Friday in Pittsfield. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"School eyeing Stanley parcel"
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, Saturday, October 31, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority has signed a letter of intent to enter into discussions with a career-training organization that is interested in developing a new campus for a two-year private technical college at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.
Premier Education Group, a career training organization that serves more than 10,000 students at 25 campuses from Delaware to Maine, is interested in constructing a 20,000-square-foot building at the Stanley Business Park that would serve as a new campus for Salter College of West Boylston, which is one of the institutions that the organization runs.
PEDA is a quasi-public agency that is charged with developing the Stanley Business Park, which is located on 52-acres of General Electric's former power transformer facility. PEDA was formed 11 years ago. If the deal goes through, Salter College would be the park's first tenant.
The announcement came on the same day that Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory Bialecki met with city and state representatives at the PEDA offices on Kellogg Street to discuss the progress of the park.
Bialecki said the ongoing infrastructure improvements at the Stanley Business Park are an important component of the overall development of the parcel in making the site more attractive to potential clients.
The letter of intent allows PEDA to begin negotiations with Premier Education Group on the construction of the facility. But PEDA's interim Executive Director William M. Hines Sr. said there's a good possibility that an agreement will be reached before the end of this year.
"There's a strong indication that it's going to go forward," Hines said.
Hines said Premier Education Group would like to have the facility constructed so the new campus can open next fall. Salter College would probably have 10 to 15 employees on staff in Pittsfield, who would be hired locally, Hines said. Student enrollment would be between 400 and 450 pupils, he added.
Mayoral candidate Daniel L. Bianchi, who has been highly critical about a lack of progress at the PEDA site, found the timing of the announcement "very interesting" considering it came four days before the mayoral election.
"I know that just a few weeks ago Bill Hines was quoted as saying that we had a couple of needle-in-the-haystack type projects which seemed like million-to-one shots to me," he said.
"Obviously, I'm happy to have any projects at that site," Bianchi said. "I guess I'll take a wait-and-see attitude and be hopeful."
Gary Campbell, the president and CEO of Premier Education Group, could not be reached for comment on Friday. But in a written statement, Campbell said that Berkshire County, Pittsfield, and the Stanley Business Park fit the organization's business model to continue to expand its education program throughout the Northeast.
"A new campus for Salter College makes sense for the Pittsfield area, and this site is a great location for development," Campbell said. "We are excited about this opportunity and looking forward to finalizing it."
According to Hines, GE is willing to waive a stipulation in its Definitive Economic Development Agreement with PEDA that prohibits educational institutions from being located at the Stanley Business Park.
Salter College provides technical training programs for a number of professions including accounting, office administration, medical assistance, massage therapy, the culinary arts, and HVAC technology.
Hines said the culinary, HVAC, and medical assistance programs are some of the initiatives that would be located in Pittsfield.
PEDA has two other projects in the works: The CornerStone Telephone Co. of Troy, N.Y., has expressed an interest in locating a $5 million, 13,000-square-foot data center and office structure at the Stanley Business Park, if the federal government approves $3.7 million stimulus grant for the project.
The Stanley Business Park is also one of eight sites that the Western Massachusetts Electric Co. has chosen as sites for large scale solar power facilities in its coverage area. Hines said the solar proposal is "moving along very quickly," while Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer said construction should begin next year.
Earlier this week, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council certified the city of Pittsfield as a BioReady Community. Through cooperation with the Department of Community Development and PEDA, the city has met multiple criteria in order to receive the gold, or highest rating, from the Massachusetts Biotechnological Council.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: email@example.com, or (413) 496-6224.
"Optimistic after PEDA meeting"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, December 18, 2009
With all the negative publicity and accusations of a lack of transparency surrounding PEDA during the mayoral elections in November, I checked it out for myself on Wednesday, Dec. 16.
What I expected was almost a "skull and bones society" meeting steeped in secrecy and hidden agendas. Why wouldn't I think that way? For after all, PEDA was a huge controversial campaign issue that often painted the PEDA board as an impotent waste of time full of Ruberto appointees who weren't getting the job done. What I discovered was an open, energetic and confident board in the throes of some serious accomplishments.
The $10 million WMECO solar power project will be generating electricity on site by next fall. That, combined with the waste water treatment solar project, means Pittsfield will be generating more solar power than anywhere else in New England. That will get us noticed regionally for sure.
Premiere Education Group is in substantive negotiations with Bill Hines to move to the William Stanley site. Serious inroads have been made for Cornerstone Telephone financing through state and federal broadband initiatives. The working relationship with G.E. is on solid ground -- one need only to drive by the site to see that. In addition, a total upgrade of the PEDA marketing approach is beginning to be implemented. All this happening while huge demolition and clean-up is taking place getting the site shovel ready.
This is good stuff Pittsfield. PEDA is in good hands and I encourage anyone and everyone to attend these meetings.
SHERMAN L. BALDWIN
The writer is host of "Talk Berkshires" on WBRK.
Workers demolish a part of the old GE campus in June to make way for the expansion of the William Stanley Business Park, which is being developed by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. PEDA hopes to land its first tenant for the business park this year. (Eagle file photos)
2010: A look ahead
"A year to rebuild: Myriad development projects could lift flagging economy"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 1, 2010
Like the rest of the country, Berkshire County is mired in the recession, but a variety of economic development projects could come to fruition in the county this year.
Eleven years after it was formed by the state Legislature to develop the William Stanley Business Park, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority took possession of most of the 52-acre parcel in 2009 and might be close to landing its first tenant.
In October, PEDA signed a letter of intent to begin discussions with the Premier Education Group, a career training organization that is interested in constructing a 20,000-square-foot building at the business park to serve as a new campus for a technical college it runs.
Two other projects -- a data center for The CornerStone Telephone Co. of Troy, N.Y., and a large-scale solar power facility for the Western Massachusetts Electric Co. -- also are in the mix.
Deanna L. Ruffer, director of Pittsfield's Community Development Department, has said construction of the solar power facility should begin in 2010.
Other development this year could come from Interstate Biofuels of Roslyn Heights, N.Y., which is interested in refurbishing Schweitzer-Mauduit's former Niagara and Centennial mills in Lenox Dale as part of a proposed $30 million biodiesel production facility that would produce 15 million gallons of the renewable energy each year.
A developer from Braintree is interested in developing an eight-acre parcel behind the Berkshire Crossing Shopping Center in Pittsfield for a BJ's Wholesale Club store that would create 120 new jobs.
A local company purchased the Searles/Bryant complex in Great Barrington for $800,000 in 2009 and is expected to start turning it into a multiple-use development this year.
Here are other stories to keep an eye on in 2010: Education
The proposed Housatonic River Charter School in Great Barrington has created controversy already, and the debate probably will intensify before the state considers the proposal in February or March.
Proponents of the school claim it will provide alternative educational opportunities for South County youngsters. Opponents say it will siphon too much funding from the four school districts that will be most affected.
In Pittsfield, the debate over the future of the city's two public high schools will continue. The Massachusetts School Building Authority is backing a proposal for some type of high school building project. Taconic High was chosen for consideration because the SBA forced the School Building Needs Commission to select just one school.
The Adams-Cheshire Regional School District is in the process of hiring an architect to complete a feasibility study to determine possible future uses for Adams Middle School, which closed in June.
Almost every county school district was affected by Gov. Deval Patrick's decision to cut $128 million in state aid to local municipalities in order to plug a $1.1 billion budget shortfall last year.
Although state Chapter 70 school aid wasn't cut in 2009, school districts were forced to cut services during the fiscal 2011 budget process. More state cuts are expected this year.
The state Highway Department is expected to complete the renovation of South Street in Dalton by this summer, according to Dalton Town Manager Kenneth Walto. The construction of Dalton's $1.3 million, 5,000-square-foot senior center will go out to bid this winter. The project is likely to be completed in the fall.
The straightening of the Park Square rotary in Pittsfield is expected to be completed after the holidays.
The second phase of Pittsfield's Streetscape project -- refurbishing the section of North Street from Park Square to Columbus Avenue -- will go out to bid in late summer or early fall.
The U.S. Census, held once every 10 years, will take place in 2010. Ten-question census forms will be mailed to Berkshire residents in March, and are required to be returned in April.
Population data obtained through the census determines the state's share of $400 billion in annual federal funding for a variety of projects, including transportation and education initiatives.
Shakespeare & Company
The Lenox theater company, which is more than $10 million in debt, enters the new year trying to restructure its financial obligations so that it can remain active for a 33rd season.
Shakespeare & Company needs to raise $2.3 million by March -- and millions more in long-term funds -- to avoid dissolution or bankruptcy, according to an independent report released last year.
Berkshire County's five state legislative seats will be contested in the fall. U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, is expected to run for re-election for the seat in the 1st Congressional District. He has held that seat since 1991.
North Adams native and Williams College graduate Martha Coakley is the Democratic Party's nominee for the U.S. Senate seat that was held by the late Edward M. Kennedy. Coakley will face Republican Scott Brown in the general election Jan. 19.
Richard J. Alcombright begins his first term as mayor of North Adams. He succeeds John Barrett III, who served in the job for 26 years.
The state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs' zebra mussel task force is formulating a statewide policy on the invasive species. The policy is expected to be ready by April 1.
Zebra mussels were discovered in Laurel Lake in Lee last July, the first time they had been found in a Berkshire County waterway. They also have been discovered in the Housatonic River as far south as Stockbridge.
In July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expects to receive a revised corrective-measures report from the General Electric Co. regarding the cleaning of PCBs from the Housatonic below Pittsfield. The EPA is required to respond to any proposals filed by GE, and it's possible the agency's response will be filed by the end of 2010.
The removal of PCBs that were discovered in the caulking of some buildings at Berkshire Community College last year is expected to take place in the spring.
Three murder trials could be brought forward in Berkshire Superior Court this year.
David W. Vincent III of Pittsfield is scheduled to go on trial for allegedly murdering his girlfriend, Rebecca Moulton, last June.
Rodney M. Ball of New Marlborough and Eugene Shade II of North Adams were charged with murder in 2008, but have yet to be tried.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6224.
"Challenges ahead for city and state"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, January 1, 2010
In discussing the year ahead two months ago, candidates for city office in Pittsfield all agreed, without prompting, that the city's agenda would be dominated by the daunting financial challenges posed in 2010. That's not something anyone wants to hear after getting through 2009 with all of its difficulties, but economic realities will establish the playing field in Pittsfield this year. And in Massachusetts as well.
The two, of course, are inextricably linked. A drop in tax revenue caused by the poor economy has resulted in cuts to state programs that benefit the Berkshires. Elected officials fear substantial reductions in local aid this year, and if this becomes a reality, those officials will confront having to raise taxes, cut their budgets, or both. These are not good options.
In Pittsfield, Mayor James M. Ruberto returns to office after a close re-election battle and the City Council joining him in taking on the city's problems contains a collection of promising new faces. The mayor's challenge, as he explained it in the election campaign, will be to keep moving forward on a positive agenda for the city in the face of cruel economic realities, and that balancing act will be a formidable one. In North Adams, the city embarks on the post-John Barrett III era with Dick Alcombright at the city's helm following an impressive election victory. His challenges will be much like those facing Mayor Ruberto.
Democratic Governor Deval L. Patrick, whose ambitious agenda was curtailed to an extent by economic realities, faces an election challenge this November. Republicans Charles Baker and Christy Mihos will contend for the right to take him on, and former Democratic treasurer Tim Cahill is the wild card with his Independent campaign. Mr. Patrick will challenge his opponents to explain how they could do better under similar circumstances.
In less than three weeks, on January 19, either Democrat Martha Coakley or Republican Scott Brown will be elected to succeed the late Senator Edward Kennedy. Succeed but not replace, as Mr. Kennedy's legacy will enjoy a long life in the county, state and nation.
"'Clean-up' is swept under the rug"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, February 4, 2010
When you sweep dirt under your rug and call your room clean you are not fooling anybody but yourself. The EPA and GE have worked together to present to the public (and the Eagle is helping sell it) that the "clean-up" of the GE site is actually happening. What has really happened is a tragedy. ("GE site almost clean of PCBs," Eagle Jan. 29.)
Under the poor for Pittsfield compromise called the Consent Decree, a token clean-up has been performed. Yes, surface areas in many areas where potential exposure to humans is possible have had surface contaminated material removed and a "cap" with clean soil has been placed over those areas. The river was dredged only to a prescribed depth and what GE and the EPA call "armor," synthetic liner material and rocks, was placed in the bottom of the river.
All contamination was not removed. Vast amounts of contamination remain below these caps and armor, both in the river and in other excavated areas. The GE parking lot on Newell Street will receive no treatment. The thousands of barrels rumored to be buried under the power lines in the old oxbow between Newell Street and Lyman Street will not be excavated. Some material might be removed from Silver Lake with the remainder covered with a cap of sand. The ground water in the huge aquifers under the city remains contaminated and will be forever because groundwater was not addressed in the Consent Decree.
The real true tragedy is that we have allowed EPA and GE to stockpile contaminated excavated material in OPCA 71 and on Hill 78 in the heart of the city, next to a residential neighborhood, next to one of the best elementary schools. OPCA 71 is a depository of contaminated material with unlimited PCB content, only separated from the environment by a capping and liner material with a finite (30-50 years?) life. Under the Consent Decree, Hill 78, prior to the Consent Decree on the EPA National Priority List to be cleaned up, is a depository for low level PCB material. Historically Hill 78 was a ravine and the dumping ground for decades of transformer and capacitor manufacturing. The skeletons of that practice sit on no liner and possibly include drums, transformer and capacitor carcasses and one can only guess as to what else.
Maybe it is The Eagle's perception that the GE site is almost cleaned up. There are those of us that might argue that the dirt has merely been swept under the rug.
On February 4, 2010, "A Concerned Mom" (Pittsfield, Massachusetts) wrote:
This is a terrific letter. You are exactly right and yes, it is a true tragedy. It's a tragedy that the children who attend Allendale school and the children in the neighborhood are being forced to be continually exposed to the poisonous chemicals that have been dumped on Hill 78. They have no idea what kind of danger they are in. The adults that are supposed to be responsible for them should be fighting to have that Hill removed. They should be fighting with every ounce of energy that they have. The list of health risks that PCB's pose is too long to list. The data is there. The most powerful speaker that we've heard from, so far,
is the woman who traveled to Pittsfield, from the Love Canal area, to speak on the topic. She was extremely passionate about the subject. She and many, many people that lived in her neighborhood have lived through the same tragedy. They were told, over and over and over again, that the area was safe, that the PCB's were NOT harmful, that they were over reacting etc. etc. etc.
When their children started to be born (or tragically still born) with birth defects, learning disabilities, deformed limbs etc. etc, they started to panic. And rightly so, they had every reason to panic. They had all been exposed to the very chemicals that they had been told, over and over and over again, were safe and didn't pose a threat.
Maybe the Eagle could bring that woman back to town and she could once again share her story.
Again, thanks for this letter, it is terrific and should make everyone in this city take notice.
Excellent letter Mr. Martindale. Lets not also forget the 17 acre toxic dump under the Sabic Parking lot that is leaching into Unkamet Brook. The consent decree calls for only a top cap. The consent decree is a flawed document and city leaders should explore every legal avenue to have it re-opened and amended.
On February 4, 2010, "HellerCarbonCapN TradeLLC" (Mc Lean, VA) wrote:
Excellent letter, Mr. Martindale!
Are the citizens of Pittsfield allowed to file any sort of class action against GE and USEPA?
At this point how can anyone trust any of the current crop of so-called 'city leaders' to do anything right with regard to USEPA, GE, PCBs, parking for the Beacon Cinema, or just about anything else.
On February 4, 2010, "Amen to that" (Springfield, Massachusetts) wrote:
Pittsfield was sold at a very low price. Not only was a lot of contamination left in place, but the source contamination was not addressed so a lot of "clean" areas are being be re-contaminated.
There was a good article in the Dec. 2009 issue of Harper's magazine (probably still available in the Berkshire Athenaeum reading room) called, "The General Electric Superfraud: Why the Hudson River Will Never Run Clean," by David Gargill. The last part of the article is a tour of Pittsfield with Tim Gray.
The pile of mess next to Allendale School is a travesty. Thanks, Gerry Doyle! The schools are so focused on improving test scores - not because they prove a child is educated, but because people won't move to the City if they think the scores are bad. It's about property values. But we have a good elementary school where property values will fall to the cellar because no one will want their kids to have daily exposure to that pile o' contamination.
Another great resource: a book called "Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival?--A Scientific Detective Story," by Theo Colborn. It's been years since I read this, but I believe the authors even mention that there is a fear that smaller amounts of PCB may cause more harm to the human body than large amounts. It's almost as if the immune system doesn't react to the small amounts, and they end up infiltrating farther into the brain and/or endocrine system.
We should all be outraged at the effects of the consent decree.
On February 4, 2010, "HellerCarbonCapN TradeLLC" (Mc Lean, VA) wrote:
Here's another good article on the subject in The Saratogian:
On February 4, 2010, "Dave" (Saint Paul, MN) wrote:
It is sad that this "Clean-up" was allowed to happen. Technology exists to destroy this material.
It is amazing that the Eagle has somehow managed to throw this set of responses into the attachments to a different article.
["Take country back from Congress": "Michelle Malkin in her book, "Culture of Corruption," uses the term vampire-Congress, and Corruptcrats." Full Story: Berkshire Eagle (Online)]
On February 4, 2010, "PROTEUS" (Springfield, MA) wrote:
Pittsfield's own version of the Love Canal requires the same degree of protest that initiated the cleanup in New York.
GE saw the writing on the wall and moved its transformer division off shore -- now in China-- where they are allowed to continue polluting unchecked.
I challenge every single person who cast a vote for hope and change to demand with one voice that the chief executive order signer exert the necessary pressure on GE to effect a proper cleanup. But won't happen because he is owned.
"GE site isn't, won't be, clean of PCBs"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, February 7, 2010
I was shocked to read the headline in the Jan. 29 Eagle, "GE Site Almost Clean of PCBs." Nothing could be further from the truth! The General Electric Company (GE) has no intention of cleaning all the PCBs from the old GE site.
For one thing, the city of Pittsfield, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and GE signed the Consent Decree that allows GE to leave contamination all over Pittsfield and just cover it up with "caps" -- geotextile material or sand. There is no plan to remove all the horribly polluted sediment that now sits at the bottom of Silver Lake. Instead, GE will be allowed to place about a foot of sand over this contamination to "cap" the lake.
Also on the GE site are two toxic waste dumps, called "Hill 78" and "Building 71" that look like hills looming next to Allendale School. Building 71, the lined-landfill containing high-level PCB contamination, has been capped for more than a year now and still produces 5,000 gallons of leachate (liquid) each month. Hill 78, the un-lined landfill, has just been capped. Hill 78 was a dump before GE signed the Consent Decree, and we will never know what was already in it, but more recently it has been used as the low-level PCB dump. All of Hill 78's leachate will flow into the groundwater threatening this resource that belongs not just to us here in Pittsfield, but to our neighbors as well.
Pittsfield's largest, high-yield aquifer under Brattlebrook Park is contaminated with PCBs. Did the city receive any compensation for GE contaminating a potential back-up water supply? This may be a bigger issue now that the state is considering underground aquifers as safer from terrorist threat than open air reservoirs.
If you were going to "clean-up" a river, wouldn't you start at the top -- the point farthest upstream where there is pollution? That is the part of their site that GE will be remediating last -- Unkamet Brook. Just a little downstream from that is Silver Lake. Both are still dumping PCBs into the Housatonic River above almost all of the remediation that was done so far, re-polluting that part of the river with PCBs and other toxins. Granted the contamination levels in the remediated section of the river are lower than what was there 15 years ago, but why wouldn't you start at the top so there would be no recontamination?
The Eagle article made it sound like all the pollution ends at Woods Pond. That is wrong as well. Not only have the PCBs contaminated the river down through Connecticut, but through the air and the food chain, our PCBs have made their way around the world.
There is no plan for GE's former site in Pittsfield to ever be cleaned of PCBs. There is no plan for Pittsfield's aquifer to ever be cleaned of PCBs. There is no plan to ever remove the toxic waste dumps next to Allendale School. The river is much cleaner than it was 15 years ago, and the wildlife in the river in Pittsfield is healthier, too. But GE's site will not be cleaned of PCBs in my lifetime. Not even GE itself would make the "almost clean" claim made by The Eagle.
The writer is executive director of Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT), a non-profit environmental action organization whose mission is to protect the environment in the Berkshires and beyond.
This artist’s rendering shows the proposed 1.8-megawatt solar power facility, located on Silver Lake Boulevard. Once completed, it will be the largest such facility in New England, according to WMECO. (Western Massachusetts Electric Co. rendering).
"Solar power plant on the way"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 18, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- The Western Massachusetts Electric Co. has picked an eight-acre parcel in Pittsfield to develop what will be the largest solar power facility in New England, according to the company.
The 1.8-megawatt facility will be located on Silver Lake Boulevard on land that is jointly owned by WMECO and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. Six acres belong to WMECO and the two others to PEDA. WMECO also owns a substation that is situated in the middle of both parcels.
Local permitting for the project is under way, and construction is expected to begin by the spring, according to WMECO. Construction is expected to cost between $10 million and $12 million, said WMECO spokeswoman Sandra Ahearn. It is the first of several large-scale solar power facilities that WMECO intends to build.
According to WMECO, the solar facility is expected to contribute more than $200,000 in annual property tax revenue to the City of Pittsfield. The site will have the capacity to provide enough energy to heat a maximum of 1,800 homes, said WMECO spokeswoman Sandra Ahearn.
"We're excited about the Pittsfield site. It meets a lot of our requirements," Ahearn said. "It's considered to be a Gateway City (a state economic designation), and it's a brownfield site. One of the requirements was for the sites to be immediately available, and because we are part of it, we can move on it pretty quickly."
The Berkshire Economic Development Corp. worked closely with the City of Pittsfield, WMECO and PEDA to secure the project for Pittsfield, said BEDC President David Rooney.
The two parcels were among eight potential sites that WMECO listed with the state Department of Public Utilities in August when it became the first state utility company to receive permission to own and operate solar facilities within its service area, which includes the four counties of Western Massachusetts. WMECO is currently authorized to install six megawatts of solar.
The state is planning to install 250 megawatts of solar by 2017. Under the Green Communities Act, each Massachusetts utility company may own up to 50 megawatts of solar generation, subject to approval by the DPU.
"It's great to see a major component of the Green Communities Act start to move," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, who helped author the GCA. Downing said selecting Pittsfield is "a win across the board" because it brings development to the previously vacant PEDA property, puts more clean energy into the grid, and provides tax revenue for the city of Pittsfield, Downing said.
Besides providing a source of additional tax revenue to the city, Mayor James M. Ruberto said the construction of the WMECO facility shows that Pittsfield is open to projects that use renewable energy,
"It's an economic development halo," said Ruberto, adding that solar power is another tool the city can use "when we talk to people who are interested in Pittsfield."
The city has also received federal economic stimulus funds to develop a smaller solar power facility at its sewage treatment plant on Holmes Road. That project is currently in the design phase, with construction scheduled for this summer, said Public Works Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.
A third Pittsfield site, a former city landfill located between East Street and the Downing Industrial Park on Hubbard Avenue, was among the eight initial sites that WMECO submitted to the DPU. Ahearn said WMECO is currently evaluating 25 sites owned by municipalities and private developers that are located in its service area.
"The landfill is still in play," Ruberto said.
Ahearn said she did not know if the landfill is still under consideration, or whether any of the other 26 sites that WMECO is evaluating are located in Berkshire County.
WMECO large scale solar power facility is the first entity that will be located at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires, said PEDA's interim Executive Director William M. Hines Sr. PEDA was formed 12 years ago to oversee the development of the 52-acre business park, which is located on the site of General Electric's former power transformer facility.
"We're excited about the project because it is an investment in green energy production," Hines said.
The location also allows PEDA to fill an out-of-the way building site.
"That property is kind of tucked out of the way, and doesn't offer the best exposure for a business site," he said.
The site will also be difficult to reach when GE begins to clear up PCB contamination in and around nearby Silver Lake, a process that Hines said is expected to begin this summer and last for two years.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: email@example.com, or (413) 496-6224.
"The key cleanup question"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, October 22, 2010
Are PCBs so dangerous to the Housatonic River that they must be removed at all cost or is the destruction caused by a thorough cleanup a cure that is worth than the disease? That question isn't new, but the answer is elusive and it remains at the heart of the debate over the "rest of the river" phase of the river cleanup.
It was at least clear from Tuesday's public meeting to discuss General Electric's revised report to the EPA on the cleanup from the confluence of the east and west branches of the Housatonic south to Connecticut that landfills would be strongly resisted. The sentiment of some speakers that the river and its banks not be damaged and wildlife threatened in any cleanup could create a dynamic in which GE exploits the concerns of environmentalists to push for a modest, and less costly, cleanup. In a meeting at The Eagle before he attended the public hearing, Ian Bowles, secretary of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, acknowledged that possibility and said his office "will resist that dynamic."
With more than 90 percent of the PCBs in the river confined to a 10-mile stretch between Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield and Woods Pond in Lee, it is obvious where the brunt of the cleanup will come. While the aggressive cleanup of the river in Pittsfield is far from an exact model for the rest of the river, there is much that can be learned from it -- such as nature's ability to restore a river and its banks over time.
"PEDA's Hines to retire"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 18, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- The board of directors of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority is seeking a new executive director to take over for William M. Hines Sr., who has announced he will retire from the position on April 29, 2011.
Before then, Hines said two new tenants could be ready to build on the former GE site.
Hines retired as president and CEO of the Pittsfield Interprint manufacturing facility in 2007, and took over for Tom Hickey as executive director of PEDA in March 2009.
Gary Grunin, chairman of the PEDA board, said Hines had a knack for bringing different parties together in negotiations, which resulted in significant movement in the development of the William Stanley Business Park.
"Bill was extremely helpful in getting things rolling," Grunin said. "He's been working extremely hard with GE, the EPA and DEPA and now we have about $9 million worth of infrastructure in place. He wore many, many hats."
PEDA, formed 11 years ago, is a quasi-public agency that is charged with developing the 52-acre Stanley Business Park, the former site of the GE transformer manufacturing campus on East Street. PEDA took possession of the first parcel of former GE land in 2005.
Hines said the next land transfer is set for next month, with another transfer likely in mid-2011.
Hines announced his intentions during a board meeting last week. Grunin said the board will discuss options for finding the next executive director at its next meeting.
Hines said he tried to retire last May, but too many things would have been jeopardized, so he agreed to stay on. And he set the April date for his retirement to allow time to finish a few other chores before he heads out.
"I want to finish negotiations for the land transfer, and continue to make sure negotiations with other groups go forward," he said. "We should have one or two new buildings under construction by then."
One, a financial services firm, would bring 30 employees, and a service company could bring in another 20 jobs, Hines noted.
In addition, Hines is working on securing funding for PEDA to build a life sciences facility that it would lease to companies in that field. He said one firm has already shown interest, and that Berkshire Community College might also lease space to train students in using "clean room" technology in the manufacture of semiconductors -- skills needed for working at Global Foundries, the new manufacturing facility under construction just over the border in Malta, N.Y.
"He was all about getting all the parties together and moving things along," Grunin said of Hines. "When he came on, the place looked like downtown Beirut. After that the buildings came down quickly," Grunin said. "He was good for PEDA, good for the city, and especially good for the neighbors who had to look at those buildings."
Western Massachusetts Electric Co. turned out to be PEDA's first tenant -- the company recently completed and began operating a 1.8-megawatt solar panel installation, one of the largest in Massachusetts.
To reach Scott Stafford: firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 496-6241.
"William Stanley Business Park to get first tenant"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 27, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- Thirteen years after its inception, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority is on the verge of bringing the first business tenant to the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.
MountainOne Financial Partners, which is based in North Adams, announced Tuesday that it plans to begin construction this summer of the 5,500- to 7,000-square-foot Mountain One Financial Center at the park off East Street. The building will be on a 1.3-acre, leased parcel overlooking Silver Lake in the 52-acre park.
MountainOne has 225 employees and assets of $800 million. The holding company's affiliates include Hoosac Bank; Williamstown Savings Bank; the Coakley, Pierpan, Dolan & Collins Insurance Agency; and True North Financial Services, each of which will have offices in the new building.
The MountainOne Financial Center represents a significant expansion for the company into Central Berkshire County. The company opened an office on North Street in Pittsfield last year, but will eventually move it to the Stanley Business Park. MountainOne Financial Partners will keep its headquarters in North Adams.
There was no word on how many jobs would be created at the new site, and the company's principals declined to divulge construction cost projections. "It's a substantial investment," Keagan said.
The facility is in the very early planning stages. Both Don Keagan, the president and CEO of Hoosac Bank, and PEDA Executive Director Corydon L. "Cory" Thurston said they expect the two parties to sign a definitive lease agreement within the next two weeks.
"We're looking for occupancy by the end of the year," Keagan said. "That means we're trying to get this going fairly soon."
MountainOne will also need to acquire the appropriate permits from the city of Pittsfield before construction can begin. But unlike some other sections of the park, all of the environmental restrictions where MountainOne plans to build are already in place. Thurston said he expects the groundbreaking to take place by early or mid-summer.
"We're moving this on the fast track," he said. "It's been a work in progress for probably about a year."
Other projects have been proposed at the Stanley Business Park, but fell apart prior to construction. But Keagan and Thurston said they are confident that this one will be completed.
"We're confident enough to issue a press release that says we're going forward with this," Keagan said.
According to Keagan, MountainOne began thinking about moving to the Stanley Business Park three years ago.
"We've been looking at the Pittsfield area for a large space to accommodate our needs," Keagan said. "It's been on our radar screen for a while.
"It's not the least expensive option, but we wanted to go down there and be a contributor to the city," he continued. "We thought we would be better off doing that there than in other locations."
A quasi-public agency, PEDA is charged with the development of the 52-acre Stanley Business Park.
The Stanley Business Park is a brownfield, once home to General Electric Co.'s former power transformer facility. The land has to be cleaned of PCB contamination before it can be turned over to PEDA. To date, Only 36 of the park's 52 acres have been treated and transferred to PEDA, which was founded in 1998.
Keagan said MountainOne plans to pursue having the structure certified under U.S. Green Building Council standards.
"I think an environmentally green building down there on a brownfield site is a good story," Keagan said. "There's a renewal type theme to it."
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: email@example.com (413) 496-6224
"Business park's first tenant passes first hurdle"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 19, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority on Wednesday moved closer to obtaining a lease with its first business tenant.
By a 4-0 vote, the board approved a "memorandum of understanding" that will allow PEDA to begin negotiations on a ground lease with Pittsfield Stanley Works LLC, which plans to develop a financial center for MountainOne Financial Partners at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires. Mayor James M. Ruberto was the only board member absent.
PEDA's Executive Director Corydon "Cory" Thurston said he hopes the board will be able to approve a definitive lease agreement with the financial center's developer at its next meeting on June 15.
"This is moving quickly," Thurston said. "They want to get into the ground in June."
He said MountainOne wants to occupy the building by the end of this year.
"It's a very aggressive schedule, but they're right on track," he said.
In April, MountainOne announced plans to construct a financial center on a 1.3-acre parcel at the Stanley Business Park that overlooks Silver Lake. The North Adams-based financial institution is the first business tenant that PEDA has brought to the 52-acre business park since the organization's inception 13 years ago.
A quasi-public agency, PEDA is charged with developing the Stanley Business Park on the site of General Electric's former power transformer facility, but it didn't receive control of the first parcel of land from the corporate giant until 2005. GE is expected to transfer the remaining 16 acres of the park that it still controls to PEDA by late this summer. The site is a former brownfield, and each parcel must be cleaned of PCB contamination before GE can turn it over to PEDA.
Thurston also told the board on Wednesday that the MountainOne proposal has been placed on the "fast track" through the city's permitting process. The first step takes place at 6 o'clock tonight, when the Conservation Commission considers a notice of intent that will allow construction to take place in a wetland area.
"We're close enough to Silver Lake that we need an order of conditions," said attorney Thomas Hamel of Pittsfield, who represents Pittsfield Stanley Works LLC.
The developer has also applied for a special permit for a drive-thru window for an ATM for the financial center that will be considered by the Community Development Board on June 7. The City Council is expected to refer the proposal to Community Development at its meeting on May 24.
The only special permit that MountainOne needs to obtain from the city for construction is for the ATM's drive-thru window, Thurston said.
According to plans filed with the city, MountainOne intends to construct a 6,850-square-foot, single-story structure that will be certified under U.S. Green Building Council standards. There will be room for potential expansion via the creation of second level space, the plans indicate.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 496-6224.
Pittsfield Economic Development Authority Executive Director Cory Thurston, center, Liz Bissel and Myra Wilk (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"Ground-breaking step at business park"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 9, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- A North County-based financial group will become the first tenant to create jobs at the William Stanley Business Park, a project city officials view as a catalyst for further development at the former General Electric site.
MountainOne Financial Partners has begun construction on a 6,850-square-foot building on a nearly two-acre site at the corner of Silver Lake Boulevard and East Street.
Western Massachusetts Electric Co. was the first to use space at the William Stanley Business Park when it built its solar-panel project last year, but the MountainOne Financial Center will be the first building erected at the commercial complex 13 years after it was conceived.
MountainOne's $2 million project is scheduled to open in February with 25 employees working collectively for three MountainOne subsidiaries: True North Financial Services; Coakley, Pierpan, Dolan & Collins Insurance Agency; and Hoosac Bank.
MountainOne's headquarters will remain in North Adams. The expansion doesn't involve its other affiliates, Williamstown Savings Bank and South Coastal Bank near Boston.
The new facility will allow MountainOne to expand its Pittsfield operation by moving 12 employees from the North Street office it opened last year and hiring up to 13 more people, according to company officials.
"We've outgrown our space on North Street and that's exciting news for the city," said MountainOne President and CEO Stephen Crowe during Monday's groundbreaking.
Afterward, Hoosac Bank President and CEO Don Keagan called it "a natural progression" for MountainOne "to expand our footprint in Berkshire County."
MountainOne was formed in 2002 to provide a full array of banking, insurance and investment services for individuals and businesses. The company, with combined assets of nearly $850 million, has more than 225 people working at 14 locations in Massachusetts and Vermont.
In 1998, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority was created to oversee the cleanup, marketing and development of the 52-acre business park, once home to GE's power transformer facility.
City officials expect the MountainOne project will help attract a variety of other businesses to the park.
"Today we celebrate an important milestone in rebuilding this site," said PEDA Executive Director Cory Thurston. "This will be a stimulus for continuous growth at the William Stanley Business Park."
"We are going to show industry you can build successfully on a remediated site," said Mayor James M. Ruberto.
Ruberto came under fire during his re-election campaign two years ago, critics saying that he and PEDA were slow landing tenants for the business park. City officials point out GE still controlled the entire property until 2005, when PEDA took ownership of the first 26 acres, which took another four years to prepare for occupancy. The transfer of a 10-acre parcel occured earlier this year with the final 16 acres expected to be under PEDA's control this fall.
"Hopefully, [the groundbreaking] will take away the negativity surrounding the William Stanley Business Park," said Gary Grunin, chairman of PEDA's board of directors.
Grunin indicated his agency will announce "in the near future" one or two other businesses moving into the commercial development.
"This is going to be a multiple-use business park," he said, "that could be a combination of industry, service and retail."
To reach Dick Lindsay: email@example.com, or (413) 496-6233.
"Digging in at Stanley Park"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, August 10, 2011
The ground-breaking ceremony Monday for MountainOne Financial Partners’ $2 million project at William Stanley Business Park is of considerable value to Pittsfield, both economically and symbolically. It should reduce some of the discontent surrounding the former General Electric site but it shouldn’t be the source of unrealistic expectations.
The MountainOne Financial Center will be the first building erected at the site, which has been in various stages of clean-up, marketing and development since 1998. The North County-based company’s expansion of its Pittsfield operation will provide jobs as well as a tangible sign that the business park is indeed now open for business. One or two other tenants are apparently in negotiations to come to the park, which while oversold initially as an answer to the city’s economic problems will be a part of its economic future.
Of course, the ground-breaking came on a day that the stock market plunged as America dealt with an economic crisis born of continued stagnant growth and political failures. Myopic critics talk as if Pittsfield is the only city in the country that is not thriving economically when in fact the country as a whole is hurting. Until America begins manufacturing products again and gets its political act together -- two tall orders -- Pittsfield and every other U.S. city will struggle.
Corey Thurston, far left, the executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, had never held a position that was specifically focused on economic development until taking the reins at PEDA last April. (Eagle file)
"PEDA exec developing a vision"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 29, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- There are papers stacked on Corey Thurston’s desk at the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority’s headquarters on Kellogg Street, but the piles are not overwhelming.
"I like to get things done," said Thurston, who, in April, became the first person from outside the organization to become PEDA’s executive director in the agency’s 13-year history.
"My desk has a few things piled here," he added, "But I’d like to think they’ll be gone and there will be a new pile next week."
All indications are that Thurston is living up to those words.
Since assuming the position full-time when interim executive director William M. Hines Sr. retired at the end of April, Thurston this month oversaw the groundbreaking for the William Stanley Business Park’s first real tenant, the MountainOne Financial Center. A quasi-public agency, PEDA is responsible for the development of the 52-acre park, which is located on the site of General Electric’s former power transformer facility.
Granted, most of the work with MountainOne occurred before Thurston arrived on the scene. But in the last three months, Thurston has helped PEDA secure a letter of interest from a possible new client and has been finalizing the transfer of the park’s final 19 acres from GE to PEDA, which is now expected to be completed by the end of the year.
He has also been in contact with state and local officials regarding the redevelopment of the Woodlawn Avenue railroad bridge and the building of an incubator building for small businesses on the site, while exploring a possible expansion of the business park’s territory.
Under the terms of the consent decree that requires GE to clean up PCB contamination in Pittsfield, the corporate giant is required to clean each piece of land of pollution before it can turn the parcels over to PEDA. The complexity of that process -- everything has to be approved by multiple agencies before the land transfers occur -- is one reason why the development of the Stanley Business Park has taken so long. Some of the issues Thurston is currently working on have been dealt with by PEDA for years. But those who work with him are impressed with how he has tried to tackle so much in so little time.
"He’s a go-getter," said Gary Grunin, PEDA’s current board chairman. "I’m really happy with him. He really hit the ground running."
Thurston, 58, who lives in Williamstown, is the son of the late Donald A. Thurston, who founded the Berkshire Broadcasting Co. before coming to PEDA Thurston had never held a position that was specifically focused on economic development. But he had previous experience in land acquisition, sales, marketing and communications, working for both his father’s company and as an acquisition specialist and project manager for Redstone Properties of Williamstown.
"It’s been a learning experience," Thurston said. "I purposely jumped in and tried to learn as much as I could about the last 12 years, really for the lessons that history can teach so that we don’t repeat the problems that have occurred.
"I’m not an environmental wizard, and I’m not a lawyer, and those are the two biggest pieces of the PEDA agreement (with GE) in terms of its conceptual parts," he said. "However, I do know my way around a bit, and I have a lot of experience, so it’s not totally foreign to me.
"I’ve really been pushing to get some of these pieces moving at a faster pace through the channels," he said.
Thurston said his biggest concern has been the redevelopment of the Woodlawn Avenue railroad bridge, which is owned by the CSX railroad and is located on a parcel of land that is still under GE’s control. The center span has to be replaced so CSX can run double-stack containers from its base in Selkirk, N.Y., through to Worcester. At Pittsfield’s two other CSX railroad bridges, on First and North streets, Thurston said the company plans to lower the track bed so that the higher cars can pass through safely. That option is unavailable for the Woodlawn Avenue span because it is located in an environmentally sensitive area, Thurston said. Replacement of the center span is expected to cost between $2 and $3 million.
"All we’re off is about 15 inches," he said.
According to Thurston, GE has granted CSX permission to replace the span, but the state can’t provide funding to the company for its removal because the bridge is owned by a private entity. The bridge has to come under PEDA’s jurisdiction before the transfer of funds can take place. He hopes the span can be replaced next winter.
"I have had meetings with state Department of Transportation officials and District 1 engineer Peter Niles," Thurston said. "They have promised me that as soon as it is in PEDA’s hands, I will get on the bid list for the replacement of the bridge or the reconstruction so I can put it back into service."
"Mayor steps down from PEDA board"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 22, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto's tenure on the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority's board of directors has ended three months before his fourth and final term as the city's chief executive expires.
Ruberto resigned Wednesday in a brief letter of resignation at the board's monthly meeting.
Ruberto appointed Michael K. Matthews, the CEO of Tower Acquisitions, to serve the remainder of his two-year term, which expires in April 2013. Tower Acquisitions is a Lee-based company that owns communication towers nationwide.
The mayor of Pittsfield appoints members to the PEDA board, the quasi-public agency in charge of developing the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.
Ruberto had served on PEDA's board since 2004, the first year of his four two terms as mayor. When he was reappointed to his current term at PEDA six months ago, Ruberto said he intended to serve until his term as mayor expired at the end of the calendar year.
On Wednesday, Ruberto said he decided to submit his resignation now because "it was an appropriate time to have a completely reconstituted board."
If Ruberto had resigned without naming a replacement, his spot couldn't have been filled until the new administration takes over in January.
"We had an opportunity to nominate an outstanding young man who was in a position to serve," Ruberto said. "So it seemed appropriate to get him going and get him engaged as we move into the next phase of development."
Four of the board's seven current members have been appointed this year.
PEDA Executive Director Corydon L. Thurston said Ruberto's resignation was not expected.
"I only knew about it a little while ago," Thurston said. "I was surprised. I thought he'd hang out until the end."
Matthews, 48, who lives in Pittsfield, helped found Tower Acquisitions in 2006 when he and a group of investors purchased 104 communication towers across the country that had been made obsolete by the new fiber optic communications technology. Tower Acquisitions, which Matthews currently owns outright with one business partner, modernizes the towers it purchases then leases them to major corporations like AT&T.
He has also co-founded many companies that own and acquire unique real estate holdings, such as a 54-acre horse farm in Kentucky, and waterfront properties in southwest Florida. Before starting Tower Acquisitions, Matthews founded Berkshire Wireless in 1998.
"I thought it would be a great opportunity to contribute to the area," said Matthews, the son of Mark Matthews, the retired former principal of both Pittsfield and Taconic high schools. "I've been in the Berkshires for many years but just kept my head down and ran my own business."
"National retailer to anchor shopping complex at former GE site"
Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 21, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- Plans are in the works to build a 170,000-square-foot shopping complex, anchored by a national retailer, at the William Stanley Business Park.
The complex, to be located on a 16-acre parcel of the former General Electric Co. site, could bring 150 new jobs to the city and revitalize the Morningside commercial district, according to developers and city officials.
The developers declined to identify the retailer, citing a confidentiality agreement.
Needham-based Waterstone Retail Development is negotiating a lease with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority to build on the Tyler Street Extension site that is commonly known as the "Teens Complex."
Waterstone would be the third potential tenant this year to announce plans to lease space from the business park.
The permitting process is expected to begin in 2012 in hopes of beginning construction in the spring of 2013.
"PEDA abandons important mission"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, December 27, 2011
As an ex-Berkshirite who was somewhat involved in the machinations that resulted in the historic PCB settlement with General Electric that brought about PEDA and the William Stanley Business Park, I’d like to weigh in on the plan to turn the largest single parcel of that park into a big-box retail complex.
It appears that the wise minds at PEDA have decided to punt. They are getting rid of a big chunk of their property with a retail development that adds exactly zero to the Berkshire economy because it will simply cannibalize sales and jobs from other retailers, while simultaneously removing the land from the limited inventory of space available for business and industry.
Essentially, PEDA is saying that Pittsfield is never going to attract any significant new employer, so they might as well just lease this piece out to the first prospect and be done with it. In doing this, they are ignoring very real retail trends. Big-box and mall store chains like Borders, Circuit City, Linens ‘N Things and Pittsfield’s own KB Toys have gone belly-up, not just individual stores. Meanwhile, online retailing is growing rapidly and will continue to do so as more and more people get used to shopping on smartphones, tablets and computers. Building new retail space in a region with a declining population is latching on to the wrong end of the trend lines.
PEDA has far too easily abandoned its important mission ("to create a supportive and productive environment for new and expanding businesses, particularly in the emerging technology and light manufacturing sectors"), its vision ("We want to be the home in the Berkshires for the progressive and forward thinking companies of the future," in the words of former executive director William Hines), and the designated target for this particular parcel ("Ideal for large-scale or specialized manufacturing, biotech, R & D, distribution or warehousing" according to PEDA’s website). Most importantly, it has abandoned its responsibility to develop this land for the benefit of future generations.
The Eagle editorial board bought into PEDA’s rationalizations of this plan as a "pragmatic move" (Dec. 22). The pragmatic move here is throwing a well-crafted and still-viable strategic plan out the window. Why is it "unrealistic" to hold on to the best and largest piece of industrial land with railroad frontage in the county, for zero net gain? Pittsfield will regret this decision, especially when other stores (perhaps locally owned) lock their doors and lay off their employees as a result of whatever chain-owned stores move into this new complex.
Why not be patient while waiting for the right opportunity -- ideally one that’s locally funded, locally developed, locally owned -- instead of letting the land go for exactly the wrong opportunity? Why not challenge the newly formed 1Berkshire, which is focused on creating jobs by mobilizing local creativity and innovation, to come up with a plan for the site? What would the city lose by doing that?
The writer is a former publisher of The Berkshire Eagle and the North Adams Transcript.
This area of the William Stanley Business Park in Pittsfield is at the center of a debate between supporters and critics of a proposed retail complex. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"PEDA retail proposal under fire"
By Ned Oliver, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 1, 2012
PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority’s decision to bring a big-box retail complex to the William Stanley Business Park is drawing criticism from city councilors and Mayor-elect Dan Bianchi, who say the space should be reserved for industrial tenants.
"This is not the kind of economic development Pittsfield needs right now," said Bianchi, who will be sworn in Monday. "I’m disappointed to see that such a large part of that park, which holds so much hope for the future of the city, would be tied up in a big-box retail operation."
Bianchi, who plans to appoint himself to the PEDA board, said he’d like the city to stop moving forward on the project until he’s had a chance to fully evaluate it. PEDA board members say that’s not going to happen.
PEDA and Needham-based Waterstone Retail Development announced on Dec. 22 that they were in negotiations to build a 170,000-square-foot shopping center on the business park’s largest parcel. PEDA, which was formed to manage the business park when in 1998 General Electric Co. agreed to transfer the land to the city, acknowledged the new prospect represents a shift from the park’s original goal of bringing new industry to Pittsfield.
But they said the economy has fundamentally changed since the park was formed and that it’s unrealistic to hold out hope that the site could still be used to draw manufacturing to Pittsfield.
Critics, however, say the board is giving up on its mission too soon. Bianchi and others, including City Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Mike Ward, said they’d rather wait for the right tenant than fill the park as soon as possible.
"I think we’ve got to take a longer view," said Bianchi. "Economic numbers now are already looking much better than they were 12 months ago. It’s not unreasonable to see us coming out of this recessionary period."
Ward -- whose last day on City Council is Monday but said he plans to remain involved in the issue -- said it wouldn’t be unreasonable for PEDA to wait as long as 10 years for the right tenant to come along.
He and Bianchi pointed out that land zoned for industry in the city is finite, and industrial land under the city’s control is even more scarce.
"Just because we can’t fill it quickly, I really don’t think we should just give up," said Ward.
Critics also questioned estimates that the center will create 150 new jobs. Ward said there is a history of retail turnover in the city. He said it hasn’t been uncommon for one center to open and another shopping center to then go into decline.
Bianchi said that even if the new complex creates jobs, they won’t be very good. "Typically retail is at the lower end of the pay scale," he observed.
Members of the PEDA board, which has been criticized in the past for not filling the park fast enough, say they’re surprised that they’re now under fire for finding a tenant.
They say it would be foolish to turn down Waterstone, which they say is prepared to make a multi-million dollar investment in the city and is willing to pay for upgrades to the site itself.
"We’re certainly not going to take someone who wants to create jobs and just say, ‘Sorry, we don’t want you.’ It would be shameful -- there’s nobody else waiting at the door," said PEDA Executive Director Corydon "Cory" Thurston.
Thurston said PEDA hasn’t studied the issue, but doesn’t believe Waterstone would consider building in Pittsfield if they didn’t think there was a market for the as-of-yet unnamed national chain they plan to bring in. As for the idea that the jobs would be low paying, Thurston observed that "there’s pay scales: some at the high end, some at the low end and a whole bunch in the middle."
Gary Brunin, who has served on the PEDA board since 2000, said PEDA has been looking for industrial tenants for too long. He says it’s time to move on.
"We’ve been looking for that kind of business for over 10 years and it’s not there, and it hasn’t been, and I don’t think it’s going to be there in the foreseeable future," he said.
Brunin said that if a prospective industrial tenant does materialize, 40 percent of the park is still open and available. Thurston and Brunin said the board has no plans to halt negotiations in the face of criticism. But they noted that the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the project when it comes before City Council later this year for permitting.
"I would hope that everybody would listen and learn about this and keep an open mind, not come up with this hard and fast opposition without taking a moment to understand what the possibilities are," said Thurston.
"Retail plan would get public review, PEDA board assures mayor"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 6, 2012
PITTSFIELD -- Prodded by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority's board of directors said on Friday that the public will be provided with an opportunity to comment on a controversial proposal to place a 170,000-square-foot retail complex in the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.
PEDA's executive director, Corydon "Cory" Thurston, said the discussion hasn't taken place yet because the project's developer, Waterstone Retail Development of Needham, has yet to submit plans to the city. The proposal is expected to bring 150 jobs to Pittsfield.
Bianchi, who attended Friday morning's meeting, pressed the board to ensure the public has a say on the proposal. Bianchi said afterward that he wants the project to get a thorough vetting.
Announced late last month, the project has come under scrutiny because PEDA's original intent was to attract manufacturing and industrial firms to the 52-acre business park located on the site of General Electric's former power transformer facility.
Once Waterstone submits its plans to the city, Thurston said the public would be able to comment on the project as it wends its way through the permitting process before the Community Development Board and ultimately the City Council.
Following the meeting, Thurston said PEDA expects to receive design plans from Waterstone by late spring or early summer.
PEDA, which is charged with developing the Stanley Business Park, has signed a letter of intent to negotiate a lease with Waterstone, but board chairman Gary Grunin said that document does not bind the quasi-public agency to the project.
PEDA can opt out of the project if it doesn't meet the agency's standards, a board member said.
General Electric is expected to transfer the 16-acre park parcel proposed as the site of the retail complex to PEDA by the week of Jan. 16, Thurston said. The exact date has not been set.
"GE transfers final tract of land for Pittsfield business park"
Berkshire Eagle Staff - February 7, 2012
PITTSFIELD -- For the first time since its inception 14 years ago, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority has control of the entire 52-acre William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.
General Electric formally transferred ownership of the business park’s remaining 16.3-acre parcel to PEDA on Tuesday. PEDA is the quasi-public agency formed in 1998 to develop the Stanley Business Park on the site of GE’s former power transformer facility.
"It’s a done deal," said PEDA’s Executive Director Corydon L. Thurston. "The reality is that after however many years, all the intended land is now in PEDA’s hands."
GE was required to clean each parcel of chemical contamination and decrepit buildings before it turning it over to PEDA. The process has been long and arduous, and state and federal environmental agencies were also required to sign off on the work before each parcel could be transferred.
In 2005, GE had readied and turned over its first chunk of land to PEDA. PEDA obtained the final three lots from GE over the last 13 months. Those three lots combined contain 26 acres, half of the total park’s property.
"Pittsfield Economic Development Authority sees first revenue"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle, January 15, 2013
PITTSFIELD -- For the first time since its inception 15 years ago, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority will be receiving revenue from tenants of the Williams Stanley Business Park this year.
The quasi-public agency charged with developing the 52-acre business park will receive a little more than $20,000 in revenue from MountainOne Financial Partners and Nuclea Biotechnologies, according to 2013 budget figures that PEDA approved this week.
Both companies established a presence at the Stanley Business Park last year. MountainOne built a financial center on park property, which it leases from building owner Eric Taylor, while Nuclea rents space in PEDA’s administration building on Kellogg Street. With the exception of WMECo’s solar power facility, MountainOne and Nuclea are the park’s first tenants.
PEDA is funded through the remainder of the $15 million that General Electric set aside for its creation in the 1998 consent decree that required GE to clean up PCB contamination in Pittsfield.
According to PEDA’s executive director, Cory Thurston, that pot still contains between $4.5 million and $5 million. But that funding will run out eventually and when it does Thurston said leasing property is one of the methods that PEDA plans to use to fund itself.
"We are now planning for that," he said. "We’re not waiting for the last minute to say what are we going to do now."
The board approved a $491,937 budget for 2013, which Thurston said is about a 35 percent reduction from last year’s spending plan.
"We had a lot of extraordinary expenses last year because there was a lot of activity on the legal side," Thurston said. "We had a lot of land come to us last year, and we had to spend quite a bit on that."
It also appears that PEDA will receive more than a new railroad bridge from the state Department of Transportation.
Thurston said the state DOT has changed the "scope" of its project to replace the CSX Railroad bridge on Woodlawn Avenue to include improvements to the intersection of Woodlawn Avenue and Kellogg Street. That intersection leads up to the bridge.
"They will go 500 feet in either direction," he said. "It will save the city money."
The DOT demolished the old CSX Railroad bridge on Woodlawn Avenue through the Stanley Business Park last summer. The old bridge was one of several CSX spans that are being replaced by the state so that the railroad company can run double stack freight cars between its base in Selkirk, N.Y. and Worcester.
"They’re living up to their previous promises," Thurston said, referring to the DOT’s plans to replace the bridge. "I’m very optimistic that they will break ground in late summer."
The project, which is being funded by the state, is expected to cost $4 million. Completion is expected sometime next year.
Another PEDA project, the construction of a pedestrian walkway around the north bank of Silver Lake, is also on track, and is expected to be dedicated by the spring of 2014, Thurston added.
"Pittsfield mayor seeks changes to GE property agreement"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, 9/14/2013
PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is seeking authority from the City Council to amend the agreement that has transferred former GE property in the vicinity of Silver Lake to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.
The revised agreement is expected to help clear the way for development and maintenance of a walkway around the lake.
Bianchi said the city and PEDA want to amend the 15-year-old agreement that began to transfer 52 acres of former GE industrial land off East Street to the authority so that it could be marketed for new industrial, commercial or other uses. PEDA, a quasi-public entity created by a special act of the state Legislature, now oversees the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires on the former GE property.
Under the original agreement, GE was responsible for cleaning up hazardous chemicals and materials on the properties -- including GE's former Power Transformer facility site -- and for continued monitoring under the direction of federal and state environmental agencies.
"We are in the process of amending the DEDA (Definitive Economic Development Agreement)," said Corydon Thurston, the executive director of PEDA.
The parcels to be transferred to PEDA as part of the amendment, which include some GE property and some privately owned land, are around Silver Lake. One parcel extends in front of the MountainOne Financial Services parcel, which is within the business park.
The land around the lake was originally thought to be owned by the city, Thurston said, but title searches showed that was not the case.
He said a formal amendment of the original transfer agreement now is necessary to ensure the protections against liability for waste cleanup or monitoring covers the newly acquired land as well.
Bianchi also is seeking authorization to conclude easements to allow the city to maintain recreational development areas on land controlled by PEDA or by GE.
Thurston has said that GE has agreed to create a recreational trail for the city around the lake after remediating chemical contamination in the lake and along the shoreline.
Bianchi is submitting the proposed agreements to the council for its meeting Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.
"Councilors OK transfer of additional GE properties to Pittsfield Economic Development Authority"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 9/18/2013
PITTSFIELD -- City councilors have approved an agreement to transfer additional GE properties in the city to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority -- a move that also will allow for the development of a recreational walkway around Silver Lake.
Before signing off on the deal, however, councilors sought assurances that the transfers would not expose the city to potential liability for hazardous materials cleanup costs.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi had requested approval on Tuesday of the transfer agreements of the parcels, which were part of the GE industrial complex off East Street near Silver Lake, adjacent to the 52 acres PEDA manages as the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.
That property has been remediated by GE and transferred to PEDA over the past 15 years as part of an agreement involving federal and state environmental agencies overseeing a massive cleanup project on the GE sites. The parcels in question had not been included in the initial agreement covering the transfer of the former GE properties.
The deal approved Tuesday also allows the city an easement to maintain a planned recreational walkway around the north bank of Silver Lake, which is expected to be dedicated by the spring of 2014 -- once final remediation work at that site is completed.
Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop and others pressed Assistant City Solicitor Darren Lee and PEDA Executive Director Corydon Thurston for assurances the agreements would not expose Pittsfield to future liability for environmental cleanup costs.
Saying former industrial properties thought to be clear of pollution are sometimes "found not to be remediated completely," Lothrop asked, "where is the city’s protection in the future?"
Lee noted that Pittsfield "is not taking title to the land, PEDA is," and therefore the city "can’t be held liable" for problems discovered at a later date.
Lothrop also questioned whether PEDA, a quasi-public entity created to manage the business park, "might not be around forever," and that the city could then face liability for future cleanup work.
"I hope PEDA will remain alive for years to come," Thurston said, adding it could continue to manage the site through income from park tenants.
He said that the mayor’s requests are in the form of amendments to the original agreement creating PEDA and relative to the GE lands, and that the pact protects against liability for other parties.
Under the original agreement, GE was responsible for remediating chemicals and other materials on the properties -- including GE’s former Power Transformer facility site -- and for continued monitoring under the direction of environmental agencies.
GE is funding the cleanup work and ongoing soil, water and air monitoring required under an overriding agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Projection.
Both agencies also will sign off on cleanup work on the new parcels to be transferred before they are acquired by PEDA, Thurston said.
In answer to a question from Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, Lee said the city will acquire an easement to maintain the planned walkway but won’t own the property.
Thurston said the additional small parcels -- surrounding the lake -- were originally thought to be owned by the city or otherwise part of the original agreement creating PEDA, but title work found they remained owned by GE or private owners. That error will be addressed with the amendments and the land will come under the agreement.
A pedestrian walkway, funded by GE and extending around the north shore of the lake, is planned by PEDA in 2014.
September 17, 2013
Re: Truth about GE/Pittsfield's consent decree
Pittsfield politics is corrupt!
The GE Consent Decree is illegal because it is fraudulent.
GE capped most of the PCBs in Pittsfield. The caps expire after a number of years because the caps become ineffective as time wears on.
After the caps expire, the PCBs spread in Pittsfield's water, air, and land, to cause cancer in thousands of Pittsfield residents.
P.S. Don't tell GE lobbyist Peter Larkin I sent this email. (sarcasm)!
"Former state Rep. Peter J. Larkin sponsored the landmark brownfields legislation that made the consent decree possible." "Kennedy kept in touch" (by Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, August 27, 2009).
Our Opinion: "City supports compensation effort"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 10/26/2013
The Pittsfield City Council's vote Tuesday to join five other Berkshire towns in negotiating compensation from General Electric for the pending cleanup of the Housatonic River came with more drama than was anticipated. The narrow 6-5 vote, however, should not be interpreted as a sign that Pittsfield isn't fully behind the compensation effort.
At large City Councilor Barry Clairmont and ward councilors Christine Yon, John Krol and Jonathan Lothrop expressed concern that there were questions left unanswered by the proposed contract, which involved a $10,000 appropriation by the city, and that more time was not provided in advance to ask questions of the administration of Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi. As the City Council is not a rubber-stamp board, Councilor Krol's unsuccessful motion to table the vote for three weeks to get more information was reasonable. The "Rest of River" cleanup process has dragged on for three years and nothing is going to change within the next three weeks. The Eagle endorsed a vote in favor Tuesday night, and was glad to see it happen, but a likely vote in favor in three weeks would not have changed the dynamic.
The questions raised by the councilors, such as the method of how any compensation would be divided among the member communities, should be answered in the months ahead, and we suspect would have been as the process continued regardless of Tuesday's vote. It seems likely that officials and residents in the other participating communities -- Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield -- have the same questions.
The contract calls for the six towns to hire the Newton law firm of Pawa Law Group, environmental law specialists, as advisers, with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission acting as agents for the communities. With Pittsfield aboard, this compact will carry more weight in what is sure to be a contentious process in the months ahead.
"PEDA plans $1M incentive to lure railroad car manufacturer to Stanley Business Park"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle, 12/10/2013
PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority wants to lure a railroad car manufacturer to the city -- and it is planning to sweeten the deal by offering a $1 million incentive.
The William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires, which is managed by PEDA, is one of four proposed county sites currently being proposed as suitable for a manufacturer that would make new railway cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
A manufacturer hasn’t been chosen yet, and the project isn’t expected to commence until 2015.
Two of the other sites are in Lee, while the fourth is in Dalton. The Stanley Business Park is the only site currently under consideration in Pittsfield, although its possible another city site could be chosen. All four of the current sites have access to rail. New Bedford also is believed to be interested in the proposal.
PEDA’s Executive Director Cory Thurston said the MBTA is seeking a manufacturer to build new railway cars for its Orange and Red lines. But the state is requiring that the final assembly of the cars be conducted in Massachusetts.
He said the initiative, worth in excess of $800 million, could last 10 years and bring between 200 and 250 jobs to the Berkshires.
PEDA and 1Berkshire, the county’s leading economic development agency, are both putting together proposals to "sell manufacturers" on the Berkshires, Thurston said.
PEDA’s board voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the $1 million incentive as a way to help bring the manufacturer to Pittsfield and alleviate construction costs. PEDA’s executive committee is expected to work out the exact details of that offer by February. The funding would come from PEDA’s financial reserves.
Thurston said PEDA would consider placing the facility in an area known as the "40s," which is located across Kellogg Street from the authority’s administration building.
There are existing building foundations that General Electric left behind on that parcel, and Thurston said engineering studies are currently taking place to determine if those areas could house the type of facility a manufacturer would need to construct.
In other business, PEDA’s board voted unanimously to approve a $64,500 allocation that will allow the quasi-public agency to fund the second phase of the city’s project to build a life sciences building at the Stanley Business Park.
"GE Study: No Need to Expand Hudson River Cleanup"
By George M. Walsh, Associated Press, ABC News, December 28, 2013
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - General Electric Co. said Friday a study requested by New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli shows no need for it to voluntarily expand dredging already underway in a portion of the upper Hudson River contaminated with PCBs.
GE said the scientific and legal analysis shows wildlife in the area is healthy, and any concern about the company getting hit with future liabilities for environmental damage is speculative.
DiNapoli had asked for the review in a shareholder resolution as trustee of the state pension system. He withdrew the resolution after Fairfield, Conn.-based GE agreed to the study earlier this year.
Environmentalists have long been pressing for additional dredging of contaminated sections outside the current Superfund cleanup site north of Albany.
The company discharged about 1.3 million pounds of PCBs, used as coolants in electrical equipment, from its capacitor plants during several decades until 1977.
"It is not possible, of course, to conclude definitively that GE has no future liability with regard to its Hudson River PCB discharges," Ann Klee, GE's vice president of corporate environmental programs, wrote in a letter to DiNapoli. "Based on the information available to the company, however, we see no credible legal or scientific basis to conclude that future liability, if it exists at all, can be reduced by a voluntary expansion of the EPA dredging project."
She cited ongoing state and federal studies that have concluded "Hudson River wildlife populations are robust and thriving."
DiNapoli spokesman Eric Sumberg said the comptroller's office is "assessing this report and its potential impact on shareholder value. We will give careful consideration to appropriate next steps as we move forward with our review."
In one of the largest and most complex Superfund projects ever undertaken, GE agreed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to remove PCBs from a 40-mile stretch of river at a cost estimated to reach about $2 billion. The EPA believes the dredging will clean the river of PCB contamination and eventually make the fish safe to eat. There are currently consumption advisories for fish from the river.
GE just completed a fourth season of dredging. It says it has spent more than $1 billion so far and removed 1.9 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments, about 70 percent of the expected total. Dredging is expected to continue for two more seasons, followed by a third season restoring habitat.
"Pittsfield planners confident in chances to land railcar facility"
By Phil Demers, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 2/7/2014
PITTSFIELD -- Economic planners displayed confidence Tuesday in a multimillion dollar incentive package hastily drawn up in the hope of attracting a major railcar manufacturer to the city.
Several companies among the nine seeking a state contract worth as much as $1.3 billion visited Pittsfield and showed "strong interest in Berkshire County," said Pittsfield Economic Development Authority Executive Director Corydon L. Thurston.
The incentive package and proposed site -- located in a William Stanley Business Park off East Street, where exists a 125,000-square-foot foundation upon which a manufacturing plant could be built -- put Pittsfield in good running against other municipalities that will no doubt vie for attention.
"We think we're leading the pack," Thurston said at a meeting of the Community and Economic Development Subcommittee.
Thurston and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, among others, hope companies planning to bid for the contract will consider a home in Pittsfield.
In exchange, they hope to offer $2 million -- half from an economic development fund set up by GE and half from PEDA -- in incentives, in addition to a tax increment financing agreement that would see the company pay little, if any, in property taxes on value added by the company.
"We're hopeful that this is the kind of incentive that will set us apart from other communities," Bianchi said. "I'm very confident that we will be in the game."
The contract is to build 226 railcars for the Massachusetts Transit Bay Authority's Orange Line at $2 million to $3 million per car. Bidders must submit to the state by May 1 and identify where they intend to operate if given the contract.
Pittsfield first needs to be chosen by at least one company, and then that company chosen by the state, if it's to house the operation.
Planners set forth some stipulations, outlined in a new 44-page document, at Tuesday's meeting.
They propose to pay out one of the million-dollar incentives in $333,333 installments upon certain conditions being met.
Starting construction on an estimated $20 million facility in the park -- to include a building shell, cranes, train tracks and more -- would gain the company the first of these. The second it would receive along with the certificate of occupancy. The final, after it creates and preserves for eight years at least 100 jobs paying $35,000.
City Community Development Director Douglas Clark said a promissory note also is written in to protect the city in case the company moves production or goes bankrupt.
All city councilors present received the details positively.
What happens if the city isn't chosen? They wanted to know.
"If we're not successful with this particular project, we may be successful with some of the component part manufacturers," Bianchi said.
Councilor Jonathan Lothrop did note that delivery of the 44-page document came far too late in the day to give it a full read before the 7 p.m. meeting.
"Getting this big packet at 11 o'clock this morning offered me no opportunity to read it," Lothrop said. "I like to do my reading and my due diligence."
The full council will take up the matter again Tuesday.
"Pittsfield City Council approves $1 million to lure rail car manufacturer"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 2/12/2014
PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has unanimously approved offering $1 million to a manufacturer interested in locating a facility here to build rail cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The incentive was proposed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi with the hope one of the nine firms expected to bid on an $850 million MBTA contract for rail cars would consider a parcel in the William Stanley Business Park off East Street.
Money for the offer will come from a development fund set up by GE as part of an environmental cleanup agreement for former company industrial property that encompasses the 52-acre business park.
"I think this is a great opportunity for the city of Pittsfield," Bianchi said after the council vote. "This shows that we are serious about wanting to attract industry and jobs."
The state is asking firms bidding on the contract this spring to specify in their proposal where the rail cars will be manufactured. The assembly at least must be done at a Massachusetts site, and a number of communities around the have sought to interest bidders in sites. That includes Dalton, Lee and Adams.
In answer to questions from councilors, city Community Development Director Douglas Clark said any firm coming to the Pittsfield site would have to develop the parcel and construct a new building, which he estimated could cost up to $20 million, The incentive, he said, is intended to help put the parcel on a par with those in other communities with existing structures.
The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, which manages the Stanley Business Park, also is pledging $1 million in development funds it controls for a rail car manufacturing operation there.
The payoff, officials have said, would be in the up to 250 jobs estimated to be created from the manufacturing operation.
"The whole purpose is to put this money on the table," Clark said at one point, which he said might convince one of the firms to consider Pittsfield.
He said the city will know when the proposals are submitted which, if any, of the firms has named Pittsfield as a site. And, if so, the city would have to wait for the state to award the contract later this year to learn whether some or all of the contract work will be done here.
Councilor at large Barry Clairmont proposed amendments to the conditions under which the city would provide the $1 million.
Councilors approved voiding the $1 million offer one year after a contract with the manufacturer is signed if there is no progress, and approved requiring the manufacturer to only provide access to payroll records for Pittsfield jobs to show compliance with the employment aspect.
The council's Community and Development Committee had reviewed the proposed agreement last week. The committee approved the conditions but specified that the minimum 100 jobs that must be provided in Pittsfield must pay $35,000 or more per year before benefit costs are added.
Councilors on Tuesday also rejected speeding up payment of the $1 million from three equal payments at specified points in the building and manufacturing process.
Bianchi said at one point that he believed the amendments unnecessary, adding, "You have the ability at any time to file a [council] petition and rescind this [agreement] ... You don't have to get it 100 percent tonight."
Clairmont also indicated he would favor adding more to the incentive if Bianchi wanted to return to the council with a higher figure. Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell and other councilors at the board's previous meeting also indicated they would vote for more money from the GE development fund, which had $5.5 million in it as of Dec. 31.
"Pittsfield officials weigh request for $250K to launch Innovation Center"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/13/2014
PITTSFIELD -- The City Council is considering a request from Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi for $250,000 from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund to help prepare for the launch of the Berkshire Innovation Center.
After a presentation Tuesday from officials involved with the project, councilors referred the funding request to their Community and Economic Development Committee, which will meet next on August 26, 2014.
The fund was created as part of a settlement leading to an environmental cleanup of former General Electric Co. property in the city. The land now includes the William Stanley Business Park off East Street, where the new center will be located.
Construction of the 20,000-square-foot facility with the help of a $9.7 million capital grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center is expected to begin in 2015, with a center opening planned by July 2016.
The state grant is expected to cover building and equipment costs but not expenses to get the center's operational structure and programming up and running. Bianchi is seeking another $250,000 toward the start-up costs -- expected to come from the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, the quasi-public agency that is developing the business park.
The mayor, Stephen Boyd of Boyd Technologies, chairman of the center's board of directors, project consultant Rod Jane of New England Expansion Strategies, and others spoke during the presentation to councilors.
Boyd stressed the opportunities he sees for access to research and development information and equipment and for collaboration and conferencing that the center will offer, which should spur manufacturing development and increase good-paying employment in the Pittsfield area.
The Innovation Center is planned as an accelerator facility that will allow local companies providing products for the life sciences industry access to advanced equipment, enabling them to improve their rate of innovation and product development.
Job training in new technologies and educational opportunities also are planned at the nonprofit center, which is expected to collaborate with institutions of higher learning, research facilities and other organizations.
Start-up tasks and expenses include the formation of a membership list, fulfilling legal requirements of forming the nonprofit organization, establishing training programs and setting up collaborations.
The city has received letters of intent from 19 firms interested in participating in the center. A number of institutions of higher education, including Berkshire Community College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the University of Massachusetts, are expected to participate, along with vocational high schools in the area.
August 13, 2014
I wonder if GE Healthcare’s plan to move its Life Sciences division U.S. headquarters to an unknown community in Massachusetts is related to PEDA’s plan to build the Berkshire Innovation Center that will open in the Summer of 2016.
- Jonathan Melle
On Tuesday, August 12, 2014, the Pittsfield City Council accepted a nearly $10 million dollar grant from Massachusetts to build an innovation center in the city.
The chairman of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, Mic Callahan made his case before the city council voted unanimously to accept the grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to build the Berkshire Innovation Center. Callahan, business leaders and those working on the project also urged the council to allocate $250,000 to support a non-profit that will manage the center once it opens at the William Stanley Business Park, expected in summer 2016. The council referred the spending matter to the city’s community and economic development subcommittee, which next meets on August 26, 2014.
“It’s hard to align the stars when you are talking about jobs, economic development and a healthy community,” Callahan said. “This is one time the stars are aligned. The city is working together with the PEDA board and the PEDA board is working with the city. The Life Sciences’ board supported a gift to this community in the amount of $9.7 million.”
Source: “Pittsfield City Council Accepts Innovation Center Grant, Approves Pay Raises During Busy Meeting” (By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, August 13, 2014).
"GE to move life sciences headquarters to Massachusetts”
By Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Boston Globe Staff, August 13, 2014
GE Healthcare will establish a new US headquarters for its Life Sciences division in Massachusetts, in a move that could bring hundreds of jobs.
The company has not said where in Massachusetts the facility will be located.
The unit is currently based in Piscataway, N.J., where it employs about 400 people. It is unclear how many of those jobs will come to Massachusetts.
“Once completed, the new US Life Sciences headquarters will create a significant number of new jobs and economic activity in Massachusetts,” GE spokesman Benjamin Fox said Wednesday.
The company issued a notice to government officials that says 218 positions in Piscataway will be affected by the move, beginning Jan. 1.
GE Healthcare Life Sciences is a $3.7 billion division that provides technologies and services for the discovery and development of drugs.
NOTE: GE is moving its life sciences headquarters to Marlboro, Massachusetts.
Woods Pond in Lenox is part of the Housatonic River that will be considered in the PCB cleanup. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff / photos.berkshireeagle.com)
"Housatonic River cleanup preparations underway"
By Clarence Fanto, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, 8/24/2014
LENOX -- With a sense of urgency, the Select Board and Town Manager Christopher Ketchen are moving to stake out the town's position on a proposed $613 million cleanup of the Housatonic River.
Ketchen recently took an informational tour of the GE-EPA cleanup of the upper Hudson River PCB removal project at Fort Edward, N.Y., with officials from Pittsfield and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
He told board members he gained some insight on the challenges Lenox could face after the Housatonic cleanup begins within the next three to five years.
He urged scheduling of a public forum specific to Lenox within the next several weeks. In addition, the board will plan extensive working sessions to prepare the town's formal response on the cleanup plan, with input from the Planning Board and Conservation Commission.
"It's important for the public to fully engage and make their voices heard," he said.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, leached into the river from the former General Electric transformer plant in Pittsfield for many years. The chemical, a suspected carcinogen, was banned by the U.S. government in 1977.
Cleanup already has been completed on a 2-mile stretch of the river south of the Pittsfield plant. The EPA has been working on the next phase of the cleanup, known as the "Rest of River" plan.
The Environmental Protection Agency's proposal calls on GE to remove through dredging and capping up to 90 percent of the chemicals from designated "hot spots" from southeast Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox, which would be drained, excavated and then refilled.
Selectman Warren Archey urged a "logical sequence" of cleanup activities from Pittsfield to downstream communities, instead of overlapping work. The location of truck routes, loading areas and potential rail transport of contaminated PCB material dredged from the river and Woods Pond are among the high-priority concerns, Archey said, in addition to impacts on roads and bridges.
He also questioned whether the EPA proposal takes into account the meandering course of the Housatonic and the effects of storms.
"We've got to get it right," Archey said. "What we do or say on this is literally going to affect generations."
Selectman Kenneth Fowler pointed out that the plan indicates PCB debris would be "hauled through Lenox."
"The thing that worries me most is the staging area, where they're going to bring this [contaminated material] and who they're going to use to do that," he said.
"A lot of the big unknown is the means and methods that will be employed," Ketchen said, noting that barges that transport contaminated material along the upper Hudson River could not be used on the narrow, winding Housatonic.
"I'm hearing time is a real issue here," Select Board Chairman Channing Gibson said.
Ketchen and Archey agreed to begin drafting a formal town comment on the cleanup proposal.
"When it's all said and done," Selectman Edward Lane noted, "common sense says the biggest impact is going to be around Woods Pond. I think Lenox should be a little selfish, look out for themselves and really get our act together."
Rest of River information
What's next: The EPA will host a formal public hearing on the project at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23, in the Duffin Theater of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School.
On the Web: The government's proposal can be reviewed at www.epa.gov/region1/ge/proposedcleanupplan.html and at some Town Halls along the river. Additional details are posted at www.epa.gov/region1/ge/thesite/restofriver.
Where to write: Members of the public who wish to submit formal written comments for consideration by the EPA can mail them to Dean Tagliaferro, EPA New England, Weston Solutions, 10 Lyman St., Pittsfield MA 01201.
Comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to (617) 918-0028. Final comments from communities and the public are due at the federal agency no later than Oct. 1.
To contact Clarence Fanto: email@example.com or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter; @BE_cfanto
August 24, 2014
Re: open letter to Clarence Fanto
Dear Clarence Fanto,
I read your news article about GE's cancer-causing PCBs that have caused the suffering and death of many thousands of Pittsfield/Berkshire County area residents. I felt like your writing was part of the long-running propaganda delivered by GE and its lobbyists like Peter Larkin. Nothing in your journalistic writing offered the truth about the farce that is the "clean-up" of GE's toxic waste in Pittsfield and Southern Berkshire County. You are part of the Berkshire Eagle's corporate viewpoint that favors big government and the corporate elite (in this case, General Electric Company), which is a top-down view of politics. Please consider my comments about why GE is wrong about the "clean-up" of its cancer-causing, toxic waste PCBs. The first issue is that the "clean-up" is a band-aid or short-term solution. GE is capping a great majority of its pollution. The problem with capping is that the cap may be faulty from the beginning. The cap may only last one day, one month, one year, or one decade. The lifespan of an average cap is about 2 decades. Caps must be monitored every single day. That means that every single cap in Pittsfield and every single future cap in Southern Berkshire County must be monitored every single day. This leads to the second issue, which is who is going to pay for the so-called "clean-up" every single day, and then a generation from now, and then the next generation? The Consent Decree that GE's former CEO Jack Welch signed with former Pittsfield Mayor Gerry Doyle in 2000 paid for the first round of "clean-up" and capping. It did not address the newly found pollution sites. It did not address the critical need to monitor all of the caps. It did not address the need for cleaning-up the pollution once the caps expire and who will pay for that and the re-capping of the pollution. Who is going to pay for all of this once GE's obligations are met? Is Pittsfield going to be a Superfund site in the year 2030? Why don't you offer any real investigative journalism instead of toeing the corporate/epa line? The sad reality is that thousands of human lives have suffered and died from cancer as a result of GE and its toxic waste PCBs pollution. I grew up and lived in Pittsfield for a majority of my life. I have read a lot of news articles about this sad reality. My mom was born and raised in Pittsfield. She had cancer twice in her life. Once when I was 14 years old in 1990. Again when I was 30 years old in 2006. Her friends had cancer. My neighbors where I grew up in Pittsfield had and died from cancer. I know what I am writing about. This is serious business without serious news journalism. Vindicate yourself, Clarence Fanto, and write a real news story about what GE did to the people of Pittsfield and Berkshire County!
"‘No action' not a route EPA's taking"
By Clarence Fanto, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, 9/14/2014
LENOX -- "No Action." Of the nine U.S. government alternatives for removing PCB contamination along the Housatonic River downstream from southeast Pittsfield, that's the one that would involve no cleanup whatsoever.
But the Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that one out. In its document outlining nine Rest of River cleanup approaches, the agency states that if there's no action, "contamination remains in the river above safe levels for human health" and for the marine and land-based wildlife that abounds, especially along the 10-mile stretch to Woods Pond in Lenox.
The EPA has determined that PCBs are a likely cause of cancer. Doing nothing, at no expense for GE, would cause the toxins "to remain that way for 250 years and there are no measures to prevent exposure," the agency wrote.
"Monitored Natural Recovery" is the term for a slightly less minimal approach that would cost GE only $5 million, avoids "active remedy construction" and keeps contamination levels in the river and its floodplain "above risk-based levels" for people and wildlife.
A surprising number of people, including some Pittsfield and Lenox residents who live along the waterway, favor that alternative. They point out that the river has never looked better, that bald eagles, herons and many other species abound, and that the only necessary restriction is to avoid eating Housatonic fish.
Even swimming is allowed, an EPA official told area residents at an information session in Lenox Dale this past week, since PCBs don't float in the river -- they settle in the sediment and the soil along the riverbank and in the floodplain.
Several longtime environmental activists in the audience -- notably Barbara Cianfarini, of Citizens for PCB Removal -- advocated a maximum cleanup, despite the disruption it would cause. She cited anecdotal reports of "cancer clusters" in the Lakewood neighborhood of Pittsfield near the GE plant that fed the PCBs into the river and claimed the company had quashed state health studies verifying those conclusions.
"I very much understand everybody's fears and anxieties going into this," Cianfarini said. "They're very valid concerns." But, she stressed, "PCBs are a poison; you don't want a toxic waste sitting unregulated and uncontained in your environment. This cleanup is a good thing, and we need it."
Her group favors the most invasive of the nine EPA alternatives -- a 52-year project that would cost GE $919 million, plus disposal charges.
"If we don't get this done now, our one chance, on GE's dime, it's going to come back to haunt us and it's going to be on our dime, the taxpayers, because you cannot leave this stuff in the environment," Cianfarini declared.
However, Lenox resident Nancy Stoll offered a dissent, citing a recent Berkshire Medical Center report on cancer incidence in the area.
The 2012 BMC Cancer Report on the hospital's website, based on multiple federal and state health-institute studies, shows that the Berkshire County cancer rate, though slightly above the national average, is in the mid-range for Massachusetts, which has the lowest cancer rate in the Northeast.
"There are no alarming indicators about cancer rates in Berkshire County," the report co-authored by highly respected oncologist Dr. Harvey Zimbler concluded. He noted that Pittsfield's rate has held steady over the past decade. (The report can be examined at www.berkshirehealthsystems.org/cancer/2012-Report/index.html).
Stoll challenged "the drastic cost, for what benefit?" of the EPA's cleanup proposal now under public review -- the second most-extensive approach, costing GE $613 million, plus disposal charges, and requiring 13 years from start to conclusion.
She suggested that "disturbing" the PCBs might create more problems than leaving them where they are because of potential air-quality impacts caused by trucking the excavated material through the area.
The EPA proposal is not final -- the public comment period has been extended until Oct. 27, and GE has not signed on to the plan.
But most people who attend these valuable informational sessions, including local town leaders and regional planners, seem resigned to an inevitable, disruptive but necessary cleanup that will have a stark impact on life in this area.
Selectman David Roche, a town native, voiced concern over the economic effects on Lenox and neighboring communities because "tourism is our only industry, whether we like it or not, and we depend on it for a great part of our livelihood. We have to take a deep breath and evaluate what those thousands and thousands of truckloads of contaminated material, should they be going through town, are going to do to our livelihood."
Nonetheless, as he put it, "What's our legacy going to be? Are we going to leave it alone or fix it up? My attitude is, we fix it up. Our parting shot has to be that we're going to leave something for our children better than we found it."
September 14, 2014
Re: Clarence Fanto is wrong about PCBs in Pittsfield
Clarence Fanto published another column today (9/14/2014) about the proposed clean-up of PCBs in the Housatonic River in Pittsfield and Lenox, Massachusetts. I believe he is wrong about PCBs in Pittsfield because there have been thousands of local residents who have suffered from and died of cancer. My mom had cancer twice (1990, 2006) in her life. I grew up in Pittsfield and read about and witnessed many people who suffered and died from cancer.
The problem with the clean-up is that a great majority of the PCBs are capped. The caps may last only one day, one week, one month, or one year. The average lifespan of the caps are about 2 decades or 20 years. The caps must be monitored on a daily basis because they are unreliable. When all of the caps become defective in the future, the entire "clean-up" must begin all over again. It is unclear whether GE, which contaminated Pittsfield and all points south from the Housatonic River, will be liable for the future "clean-ups" of PCBs.
I have explained all of this to Clarence Fanto many times over. I can't understand why he won't write the truth about PCBs in Pittsfield.
- Jonathan Melle
"Keep up with cleanup"
Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 8/26/2014
The "Rest of River" cleanup process for the Housatonic River has dragged on for years and will drag on for years more, but it will happen and it is wise to be out front in anticipating possible problems as some local officials are doing. Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen recently joined officials from Pittsfield and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission on a tour of the General Electric-Environmental Protection Agency PCB removal project on the Hudson River, and he urged Lenox Selectmen to schedule a public information session to inform townspeople of what can be anticipated.
The EPA released a $619 million plan in June for cleaning the river from southern Pittsfield to the Connecticut border which did not receive rave reviews from any faction -- a possible indicator that the agency found an effective middle ground. The cleanup will focus on PCB-polluted "hot spots" like Lenox's Woods Pond, which would be drained, excavated and refilled under the proposal. There are many questions to be answered about the logistics of this process, including how contaminated material will be transported. No one but GE wants a landfill to be established in the area, but absent a landfill, it will be necessary to remove and transport this material from and through environmentally sensitive areas.
It is unreasonable for reasons of cost and potential damage to the river and its banks to sweep the Housatonic clean of PCBs, but the status quo is not acceptable either. In a report from January of last year, EPA scientists reiterated that PCBs are "probable human carcinogens," in part but not exclusively because of the rare liver cancers detected in animals exposed to the chemical as well PCB workers. The EPA's peer-reviewed cancer reassessment is in keeping with the conclusions of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the National Toxicology Program and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Plans may change as public hearings are held and GE drags out the process with its objections. Best for all to stay informed.
August 26, 2014
Re: Berkshire Eagle Editor(s) have no conscience!
I cannot believe the Berkshire Eagle editorial about the "clean-up" of cancer-causing, toxic waste PCBs in Pittsfield and Southern Berkshire County left behind by General Electric (GE) Company. Many concerned people, including myself, have written to the Eagle over the years explaining why the Consent Decree and the proposed "clean-up" of the Housatonic River in Southern Berkshire County is wrong. But it seems to me that the Eagle doesn't care about what is right and what is wrong. I strongly believe without a doubt that the Berkshire Eagle Editor(s) have no conscience!
Once again, the Consent Decree was wrong for Pittsfield because it capped most of the PCBs. Caps have a limited lifespan. Caps do not last forever. Moreover, caps must be monitored on a daily basis because they can become defective from day one. Caps last about 20 years or 2 decades. Once the caps do not work properly, the PCBs continue to spread in the air, ground, and water. Once that happens, there needs to be a new "clean-up" and the caps need to be re-capped. The Consent Decree was a short-term solution to Pittsfield's status as a toxic waste dump for GE. By 2030, there will be a need for a new or revised Consent Decree, or Pittsfield may become a Superfund site. As for the rest of the Housatonic River in Southern Berkshire County, the EPA and GE wants to cap over 90 percent of the PCBs. That sounds absurd to me because water and capping PCBs won't work for very long. This whole "clean-up" is a total farce and everyone knows it. The Berkshire Eagle is a third-rate rag without a conscience and will never publish the truth about the many thousands of Pittsfield residents who have suffered and died from cancer due to GE's PCBs.
- Jonathan A. Melle
“Councilors praise Berkshire Innovation Center plan, recommend $250,000 for start-up”
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, August 27, 2014
PITTSFIELD – The planned Berkshire Innovation Center won universal praise Tuesday before the City Council’s Committee on Community and Economic Development, which unanimously recommended $250,000 toward start-up costs for the facility.
Officials planning the 20,000-square-foot center, to be located at the William Stanley Business Park and constructed with a $9.7 million state grant, said a project designer could be selected within a month and the facility is expected to open in 2016.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has requested the start-up money from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund, money set aside by GE as part of an environmental cleanup for former company industrial property in the city.
Another $250,000 is expected to be supplied for the center’s start-up expenses over the next two years by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, which is overseeing development of the industrial park on former GE land off East Street.
Committee members, who voted to recommend approval by the full council in September, praised the center and its concept of providing high-tech research and development services and equipment and other assistance to local manufacturers to help them expand.
“This is an exciting opportunity, and I like that it will support businesses that are already here,” said Churchill Cotton, the committee chairman.
“Without doubt, this is really something we should use [the development funds] for,” said Council President Melissa Mazzeo, referring to stipulations that the GE money be used to create employment or boost the local economy.
Ward 5 Jonathan Lothrop praised the change of direction the project took after PEDA board members, the mayor, consultants and other planners decided against building a business incubator facility – as once proposed as a use for the state grant funding – in favor in what he termed “really a cooperative.”
He and others said the innovation center takes better advantage of existing small manufacturing firms and should strengthen the Berkshire economy.
“It was a breath of fresh air when you changed direction,” said Stephen Boyd of Boyd Technologies, chairman of the newly formed BIC board of directors. That was a great first step in the success of this center.”
According to project consultant Rod Jane of New England Expansion Strategies, the center would provide a state of the art video conferencing center to allow for training utilizing speakers or programs originating elsewhere; “clean-room” research and development areas and clean-room working training spaces for advanced manufacturing processes; high tech research and development equipment for product development and testing for training workers, and educational services related to advanced manufacturing.
Jane said there are local firms and institutions from around the region interested in becoming members of the Berkshire Innovation Center. Institutions such as Berkshire Community College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the University of Massachusetts would collaborate on programming and are among the organizations capable of securing additional grant funding that would benefit the center.
Officials said the facility is expected to be funded solely through membership fees and fees for training, research and other services.
Asked by Lothrop if further request for funding might be needed, officials said the business plan, described as conservative and sustainable, shows the center able to operate as a not-for-profit entity.
Douglas Clark, the city’s director of Community Development, said the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which has approved the $9.7 million grant for construction and equipment, was enthusiastic about the center’s viability and increased the original grant of $6.5 million for that reason.
The concept of an innovation center of this type, which would be the only one in the western part of the state, also was a factor in the grant increase, officials said.
Clark said requests for proposals were sought from design firms and proposals will be opened today. A team will review those and determine finalists, and local officials will work with state officials to select a project designer, likely to be under contract within a month.
Construction is scheduled to begin next year and be completed by July 2016.
Jane said start-up costs include hiring a staff, including a director and tech-director; concluding contracts with the member firms and organizations, developing training and other programming, and selecting equipment to be installed and beginning to work with supplier firms that will provide program and facility services.
The first center board of directors meeting is set for September 17, 2014.
"Pittsfield OKs $250K from GE fund for Innovation Center startup"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 09/04/2014
PITTSFIELD -- With all signs pointing to strong support, the City Council made it official this week by approving $250,000 in start-up funds for the Berkshire Innovation Center planned at the William Stanley Industrial Park.
Councilors OK'd the use of $250,000 from the GE Economic Development Fund to help cover startup costs for the 20,000-square-foot facility, which will be constructed with $9.7 million in state funding through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.
"This is exactly what the fund was set up to do," said Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell. The money was set aside by GE for development and job creation in the city as part of a consent decree agreement 14 years ago that led to an environmental cleanup of former GE industrial sites in Pittsfield.
Other than a few unpointed questions about long-term prospects to bring in enough revenue to sustain the center's annual budgets, councilors mostly offered glowing praise for the opportunity the facility presents for countywide job creation.
"To me, this is the most important vote we have taken so far this year," said Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso.
Supporters of the request from Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi for the startup funding, including a number of local business leaders, turned out in force to reiterate details of the proposal -- and express why they believe it could bolster the manufacturing revival here.
The nonprofit "private sector-led" center is expected to sustain itself through fees from member firms and organizations, grants such as for research, and income from training, video conferencing and other services.
Other revenue is expected from rental of sophisticated industrial equipment and testing facilities, which smaller companies could not otherwise afford.
City Community Development Director Douglas Clark said the "conservative" business plan developed for the center was unanimously endorsed by the Life Sciences Center board in deciding to provide the construction grant. If revenues are lower than expected during the first two startup years, he said, there is room for further adjustments on expenses and costs to address that.
In answer to councilor questions, he said the intention is to ensure the center is self-sustaining and not require further allocations from the development fund.
In addition to the $250,000 for startup costs over the next two years, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority board is expected to match that amount this month. PEDA is a quasi-public agency charged with development of the Stanley Business Park.
"It took a lot to get here tonight," said PEDA board Chairman Mick Callahan, but now, he said, the building "is going to go vertical at 901 East Street."
Enthusiasm among the local businesses seeking to become members of the center is strong, Clark said, and that bodes well for the success of the facility. In addition to small manufacturing firms, a number of institutions of higher education from the region are expected to participate.
The intention is to have the nonprofit center programming ready to begin by the time construction is complete in 2016, and to have the organization's structure completed and staff members hired.
The center, which originally was planned as an industrial incubator space, morphed into a collaborative organization offering a wide range of expertise, training for precision manufacturing procedures and specialized equipment to help speed research, design and product development for local companies. Based in part on those changes, the state board upped an original $6.5 million grant promise to $9.7 million.
In praising the BIC concept, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said it offers the potential to bring in some much needed jobs, many of which are expected to be good-paying skilled manufacturing positions. In addition, he said, "This will put Pittsfield on the map" as a burgeoning manufacturing center.
Fruition of the center plan is an example of the community taking time to develop the best possible facility to become a spur for economic development, said Ward 6 Councilor John Krol.
Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop lauded "all the hard work you've done on this," adding, "I can't wait to attend the groundbreaking."
The council vote to approve the funding was greeted by sustained applause from supporters in council chambers at City Hall.
"Berkshire Regional Planning Commission not sold on Housatonic River cleanup strategy"
By Phil Demers, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 9/21/2014
PITTSFIELD -- The federal Housatonic River cleanup strategy falls short and risks leaving a "legacy of contamination" to future generations, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission fears.
The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed action to clear PCB pollution from the river is not "comprehensive" enough to "gain long-term resiliency of species and habitat," BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns wrote in a response to the EPA's cleanup proposal.
According to BRPC figures, 75 percent of the contamination would be left behind in the stretch of the river of most concern -- 10.5 miles from the confluence of the river's east and west branches in Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox, where "90 percent of the mass of PCBs that remain in the river system" exist.
General Electric, which used PCBs at its plant in Pittsfield before they were banned in the 1970s, is responsible for their cleanup from areas in Pittsfield and the Housatonic River. PCBs are a suspected carcinogen.
EPA plans to control much of the remaining contaminated material through bio-engineering, but BRPC is "very skeptical about the long-term efficacy of engineered approaches to containing the very significant remaining contamination."
"We are not convinced that leaving high PCB concentrations behind in core areas is scientifically justifiable," Karns wrote.
The BRPC official advocates a more ambitious reduction in PCBs from the river and better protection for the habitat and animals living there.
"Where feasible," he wrote, "we urge the EPA to require that [General Electric] investigate methods to collect individual plants and animals from local populations of particularly vulnerable species, hold them during cleanup activities, and then re-establish them once construction has ended."
The BRPC's response points to near-total rebounds in some species along the 2-mile stretch in Pittsfield, cleaned three years ago, particularly in macroinvertebrate and aquatic worm populations -- crucial critters for the health of the ecosystem.
On the other hand, in the 10.5-mile stretch in question -- referred to as the "Rest of the River" -- these species remain stifled, with consequences for the entire food chain.
"The top of the food chain is clearly showing evidence of stress -- mink, otter, birds of prey are all considerably less than what you should be seeing in an environment like this," Karns said at a recent BRPC meeting.
A 70-plus page EPA proposal details a 13-year cleanup plan that would entail the removal of nearly 1 million cubic yards of material at a cost up to $613 million to GE.
The EPA considers the plan a "balanced approach," falling between a complete removal process and taking no action to remove the pollution, allowing the environment to recover slowly over many years.
A reduction by 89 percent of downstream transport of PCBs -- a particularly dangerous problem -- would be achieved.
"Each time there's a storm event, PCBs are being redistributed [in flood plains and surrounding wetlands]," BRPC Senior Planner Lauren Gaherty said.
The excavated contaminated material would be deposited in landfills outside of Berkshire County.
Three goals guided the EPA proposal: Reductions in risks to human health and the environment and prevention of downstream transport.
"EPA has taken all the different studies that have been done and come up with what they're calling a ‘balanced' approach," Gaherty said.
Cleanup tactics to be used remain a mystery, though heavy machinery, transport of material by rail or automobile, drying areas and de-watering facilities and pipelines are expected for use.
Karns said BRPC will advocate that the communities have "a very strong presence in developing and approving [work plans]."
"That's the kind of stuff that's going to drive the local officials nuts, because the neighbors will have very, very legitimate concerns," Karns said.
One such neighbor, Jeffrey Cook, who lives nearby the river in Ward 4, voiced some of these concerns at a BRPC meeting last week.
According to Cook, he and many fellow abutters fear the impact of an extensive cleanup. He claimed the EPA creates potentially dubious cleanup standards based on chemical calculations that go unchallenged.
"The result is a cleanup level in the river which is catastrophic to the river [and its wildlife]," Cook said. "I would hope that somebody would look at these standards."
Gaherty said EPA reduced the cleanup scope in some areas to protect sensitive creatures, but it remains unclear whether a more complete cleanup or continued presence of PCBs would do further harm to these creatures.
On the economic front, BRPC seeks an "absolute guarantee that a responsible party will have the necessary financial assets to control PCB contamination for decades and generations to come," reads the new documents.
"We do not believe in today's economic, fiscal and ideological environment that it is prudent to assume that either GE or the federal government will be able, willing, or required to take on a major economic burden several decades into the future," Karns' response states. "Given the dynamic nature of the river, the significant concentrations of PCBs which will remain in core habitats, in banks protected through bio-engineering, or remaining in the river under engineered caps, coupled with the already obvious but increasing expected impacts of climate change, it is highly probably that unacceptable concentrations of PCBs will be exposed far into the future and various areas will have to be revisited, possibly multiple times."
Criticisms aside, BRPC acknowledged that it "largely agrees" with the EPA's approach, but only wishes it were more comprehensive.
Residents may submit comments on the EPA's proposal until Oct. 27 by emailing r1Housatonic@epa.gov.
"Environmental groups say Housatonic River cleanup plan inadequate"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 9/24/2014
LENOX -- Leading local environmental groups Tuesday night called for a more aggressive cleanup plan for the Housatonic River from southern Pittsfield into Connecticut.
The Housatonic River Initiative, Housatonic Valley Association and the Citizens for PCB Removal were among the organizations who sharply criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its proposed Rest of River remediation.
They believe it falls far short of the need to forever protect wildlife and humans from a suspected carcinogenic chemical used for decades by General Electric.
"The proposal leaves behind 75 percent of the PCBs -- it doesn't seem like a very good remediation plan," said HVA Berkshire Director Dennis Regan.
"If you had a cancer to remove, you wouldn't remove 25 percent and leave 75 percent behind," added Barbara Cianfarini of Citizens for PCB Removal.
The EPA remediation calls for capping, rather than dredging, parts of the river bed and leaving undisturbed areas within the Housatonic floodplain with PCB levels less than 50 parts per million.
The criticism came during a 90-minute official EPA public hearing at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School. About 15 of the 60 people attending spoke to the agency's strategy for GE to remove or encapsulate PCBs in and around a 125-mile stretch of the Housatonic. The public comment period wraps up Oct. 27, with written remarks being accepted at r1Housatonic@epa.gov.
The EPA Rest of the River plan calls on GE to spend an estimated $619 million to dredge, excavate and remove the likely cancer-causing chemicals from riverbed sediment as well as the flood plain in designated zones.
Furthermore, GE would cap "hot spot" areas for 10.5 miles from Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox Dale. The plan would remove 89 to 92 percent of PCBs annually from the most contaminated areas, such as Woods Pond.
"The plan dictates what GE has to do, but not how to do it," said Dean Tagliferro, EPA's Rest of River project manager.
The "how to do it" is what worries many Pittsfield residents living within the initial 5 miles of the cleanup.
Jeffrey Cook, who represents the Ward 4 River Watch group, believes the access roads, staging areas and other aspects of PCB dredging will do more harm than good to the impacted area.
"If we had a vacuum up above sucking up all the PCBs, that would be cool," he said.
However the largest landowner along the Housatonic in Berkshire County, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, find the clean-up "responsibly" addresses public health while protecting the environment.
"It's been a difficult balancing act .. and [the plan] has our full support," said MassWildlife board member, Joseph Larson.
GE released PCBs into the Housatonic from its Pittsfield transformer plant from 1932 until the U.S. government banned the substance in 1977. GE has already spent tens of millions of dollars cleaning up the first 1.5 miles of the river in Pittsfield and Silver Lake, once the city's most polluted bodies of water, now a recreational area for boating and catch-and-release fishing.
I RATE TAXPAYER:
And they haven't ever touched Unkamet brook which is heavily polluted and feeds into the river along Merrill Road. Let alone the fact that every time it rains moderate quantities of PCB's are passing thru GE's Oil/Water Separators. Add to that the fact that minimal quantities are still being released each and everyday thru GE's Main Treatment Plant. All of these sources are re-polluting the already "cleaned" stretches of the Great and Mighty Housatonic River!!! Go Figure
"No surefire solution for Housatonic"
By Clarence Fanto, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, 9/28/2014
Those stoic fellows from the Environmental Protection Agency must have skins thick enough for crocodiles to envy.
During a 90-minute public hearing last Tuesday evening on the proposed GE "Rest of River" cleanup of PCBs from the Housatonic, the majority of the 15 speakers used their allotted five minutes to push back against the federal officials.
Only about 60 people were scattered around the 500-seat Duffin Theater at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School -- at least local government officials and environmental "regulars."
Perhaps the general public is resigned to the inevitable project, still three to five years away. Many area residents who don’t attend the meetings prefer to see the river "left alone."
Most of the speakers argued that the "weak" plan would leave behind too many of the likely cancer-causing chemicals released into the river from the company’s GE plant in Pittsfield for some 45 years, ending in 1977 when a federal ban took effect.
According to Peter deFur, of Richmond, Va., an environmental consultant for the Housatonic River Initiative (HRI), the plan is "basically inadequate to protect the public health and environment. They do not remove enough of the PCB mass or contaminated sediment from the river system." He contended that the proposed remedy would leave the region "contaminated with PCBs for the foreseeable future, perhaps in perpetuity."
DeFur cited "extensive research on human health and ecological systems" proving that "PCBs are incredibly toxic at low levels."
The environmental activists seemed to prefer the single, more drastic solution rejected by the EPA -- a disruptive 52-year project that would cost nearly $1 billion.
Tim Gray, longtime HRI leader, blamed private talks involving the state, GE and the feds, for watering down a previous EPA plan.
"The cleanup plan is so inadequate that I believe it will leave the river contaminated forever," he said. "There’s no hope it would recover, so there needs to be a much stronger plan."
The EPA critics did not acknowledge that the agency considered nine alternatives for a cleanup, focusing on the 10.5-mile "hot spot" stretch from southeast Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox.
The agency chose the second most-thorough -- 13 years grand total, $619 million out of GE’s checkbook.
On behalf of some 400 families living in neighborhoods along the riverfront in Pittsfield’s Ward 4, prominent local attorney C. Jeffrey Cook lambasted the EPA officials, but not for proposing a too-limited remedy.
Declaring that he has "lost confidence in the EPA process," Cook labeled the current proposal "very cynical, very disturbing. ... we’re leaving out things like access roads and staging areas which will have a huge impact on the area, the floodplains and the river."
He quoted a state Department of Health report showing no elevated PCB levels among people in the Allendale School area of Pittsfield, where excavated PCBs are buried and capped, nor can the toxins be detected in the air. "But that’s going to change. We’re going to have 13 years of digging this up, for some of these neighborhoods we’ll have 5 years of this stuff in the air, while right now it’s not there," said Cook.
"I think we’re doing this sideways, it’s more of a political than a community process," he continued. "We’re very discouraged."
Representing MassAudubon, Berkshire Sanctuaries Director Becky Cushing told the EPA officials that while the plan has some short-term positives, it still falls short, lacking critical details about how the cleanup would be conducted by GE.
She advocated a more comprehensive plan to allow for an intensive, additional PCB removal in the future.
The Housatonic Valley Association’s Berkshire Director Dennis Regan, while approving some aspects of the remedy, still concluded that "the current proposal does not go far enough to protect the health of the river, of wildlife, and of human health. The proposal leaves behind 75 percent of the PCBs, which to us does not sound like a very good remediation plan. It’s leaving the core habitat areas contaminated."
It’s worth noting that the EPA remedy would cap remaining PCBs not excavated from sediment, and the end result would remove 89 percent of the chemicals now being transported by the river south of Woods Pond. But, as Regan argued, "Capping is basically sweeping the PCBs under a sand rug. It may look good for now, but we have serious doubts that it could stand the test of time."
Steering a middle course was Joseph Larson, an emeritus UMass-Amherst professor of environmental conservation, speaking on behalf of the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife -- the largest landowner in the affected area around the Housatonic.
Citing the river’s significance for its "unique and rich natural resources" and its appeal to outdoor-recreation enthusiasts, Larson acknowledged that PCBs pose "a public health risk that must be addressed. ... We are aware that there is no silver-bullet solution that applies to every contaminated area."
Larson praised the EPA plan for "responsibly addressing" public health risks while maintaining as much as possible the natural and recreational values of the Housatonic."
"It has been a difficult balancing act, but it is a Housatonic plan that has our full support," he declared.
Thee format of the session ruled out responses from EPA officials on hand -- project manager Dean Tagliaferro, regional spokesman Jim Murphy and Robert Cianciarulo, chief of the EPA’s Superfund Program in Boston. But the public can still file written comments until Oct. 27, and the agency has promised that everyone will get a response.
Whatever the outcome, GE’s checkbook needs to include a generous settlement -- say, $60 million -- for the six communities affected by the cleanup. After all, as local officials warn, the impact on roads, bridges, residents who live near the path of truck traffic bearing excavated toxins, and on tourism, is bound to equal or exceed the worst-case scenarios.
To contact Clarence Fanto: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at email@example.com
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