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: email@example.com, 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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 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: email@example.com.
"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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 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: email@example.com, 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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 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: email@example.com 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: firstname.lastname@example.org (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: email@example.com 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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 email@example.com 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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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: email@example.com
iBerkshires has an interesting news story about PCBs toxic waste pollution in Pittsfield.
"According to Executive Director Nathaniel Karns, PCBs were found in recent years in the stormwater system near the original Pittsfield plant in an area that was supposedly cleaned up."
"Specifically, Karns said the chemicals are flowing into a retention pond that was built during the cleanup."
"The reality is, there are PCBs everywhere," PEDA Executive Director Corydon Thurston said.
The EPA's web-page on PCBS:
The ineffectual and fraudulent "Consent Decree" web-page:
opca reports web-page:
EPA region 1 GE Pittsfield Housatonic River site web-page:
C. Jeffrey Cook: "EPA's half-baked Rest of River plan"
By C. Jeffrey Cook, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, 10/20/2014
After years of being involved in several efforts to address the cleanup of the Housatonic River, I have become disturbed at the way EPA is approaching the very complex challenge of remediation of Rest of River for three reasons:
1. The EPA continues to base the level of cleanup on very unrealistic standards.
2. The EPA has eliminated from the proposed remedy any mention of access roads and staging areas which could be very detrimental to the River, the floodplains and the adjoining neighborhoods (the "river neighborhoods").
3. The EPA has responded to the concerns of the river neighborhoods with half-truths and platitudes.
The cleanup standard based upon PCBs being a "probable carcinogen" is completely unrealistic. The background risk for getting cancer during one's lifetime is roughly 40 percent wherever you live. The risk of dying from cancer is one in four for men and one in five for women wherever you live. Yet the cleanup standard for Rest of River is based upon EPA's mathematical calculation that will reduce the risk of cancer to between 1 in 10,000 to 1 in a million.
Expressed as a clean-up standard, the EPA requires that PCBs be cleaned up to five parts per million ("pts/mm"). That is the equivalent of five grains of sand in two five-gallon plastic buckets filled with sand. If the cleanup standard were to raised to 25 to 50 parts per million, we would be up to 25 to 50 grains of sand spread over those two five-gallon buckets.
That minuscule difference results in a very significant difference in the level of clean-up.
For Rest of River, it means that the part of the river ("Reach 5A") that runs from Fred Garner Park to New Lenox Road through neighborhoods in Ward 4 in Pittsfield and on East New Lenox and New Lenox Road in Lenox (the "river neighborhoods") will be fully dredged to get to the level of five pts/mm, and the part of the river south of New Lenox Road running to Woods Pond ("Reaches 5B and 5C") will not be dredged, because the proposed cleanup level is 50 pts/mm. There is no scientific evidence that links cancer risk or other health problems to these varying levels of cleanup; they are just based upon EPA's risk calculations that bear no relation to actual (or background) risk.
The cleanup in Reach 5A will involve the removal of an estimated 250,000 cubic yards ("cu/yds") of contaminated material to be replaced by an estimated 250,000 cu/yds of clean fill and cap material over an estimated five-year period. Pittsfield estimates that work will involve 10,000 truckloads in 20-ton dump trucks per year or something like an average of four per hour. Considering the weather in the Berkshires, the four truck loads per hour will surely be increased in the warmer months, increasing the intrusion on the lives of the residents of the river neighborhoods when families spend more time outdoors.
Too much of the public discussion about health risks has involved reports of "associations" which are a long way from proving causation. Here are some facts that are well-established, some by studies conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Health:
The Mass DPH ran blood tests of residents in the Lakewood area of Pittsfield, and students and teachers at Allendale School and found no higher levels of PCBs in the individuals tested than are present in the general population. The air over the river and floodplains has been repeatedly tested and there are no detectable levels of PCBs in the air.
The EPA has made the decision to defer dealing with the access roads and staging areas until the "Post Permit" process -- suggesting that EPA cannot now know where those will be located until GE responds to the proposed solution.
Keep in mind that the staging areas are where (a) the equipment is stored (and started up every workday morning between 6 and 7 a.m.), (b) the contaminated material dredged from the River and excavated from the Floodplains is consolidated and readied for shipment, and (c) the clean fill and cap material are delivered and processed for backfill into the riverbed and banks and the floodplains.
The access roads are where 20-ton dump trucks carrying either (a) dredged or excavated material, or (b) clean fill and cap materials, move back and forth between staging areas and work sites.
The topography of the river and floodplains and the presence of wetlands really dictate where the access roads and staging areas will go and EPA knows that information right now. EPA also knows that the residents of the river neighborhoods (the "real stakeholders") will be very disturbed at where those facilities will have to be put and for how long. EPA has apparently made the calculated decision to (a) leave mention of staging areas and access roads out of the proposed remedy, (b) respond with platitudes and half truths to the concerns of the real stakeholders, and (c) not address those concerns until after the permit is issued when the real stakeholders will be in a disadvantaged position to raise their concerns.
Here are examples of the platitudes and half truths presented in (a) the EPA's official Statement of Basis for the Proposed Remedial Action or (b) public statements by EPA representatives.
To avoid the access roads and staging areas, GE could pump the dredged material through a pipe to a staging area down river. What about the fact that for every cubic yard of material removed a cubic yard of clean fill and cap will be replaced? That means that there will still be need for suitable access roads throughout the project area.
EPA will encourage the use of rail to reduce the impact on local roads. Where is the rail depot large enough to handle 10,000 truckloads per year of material going in and out? Where in Reach 5A could it be located? And how does the material get from the river and floodplains to that depot and back? Obviously when EPA is talking about reducing impact on local roads it is not talking about the River Neighborhoods, Pomeroy Avenue, Holmes Road, East New Lenox Road, and New Lenox Road.
EPA will encourage GE to use new technologies in order to treat the PCBs in place without excavation of the river or the floodplains. There is no known alternative treatment process that can deal with the scale of Rest of River. And we should keep in mind that it is likely that, in the best case, any treatment process is likely to involve digging up the contaminated material and treating it on the surface of the floodplains and river banks.
The harder one looks at the proposed remedy the more half-baked it appears. EPA should be urged to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that works a lot better for the river neighborhoods and those who regularly use of Reaches 5A, 5B and 5C for recreation. And it is time that the residents in the river neighborhoods asserted their position as the real stakeholders in this process.
A local attorney, C. Jeffrey Cook represents the Ward 4 River Watch group.
"Berkshire communities seek changes to EPA's Rest of River cleanup plan: Group of six Berkshire communities raises concerns about impact of $613 million Housatonic River project"
By Clarence Fanto, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, 10/20/2014
Woods Pond in Lenox is slated for dredging, capping and deepening to 6 feet from its current 3- to 4-foot level. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)
Canoeists enjoy the Housatonic River along the oxbows in Lenox, (BERKSHIRE EAGLE FILE)
The six communities that have banded together to alter the Environmental Protection Agency's current Housatonic River PCB removal plan are strongly urging the agency to protect Pittsfield and five towns downstream from any damage caused by the project.
A firmly worded letter to the EPA, which awaits the signature of all six members of the Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee, lists four major concerns about the proposed permit for GE's cleanup:
— The plan fails to acknowledge the economic and social impact of the massive, 13-year, $613 million project on Pittsfield, Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield that would be caused by excavation, dredging and toxic chemical removal activities and related truck traffic.
— There is no clear plan for the six communities to have a seat at the table once details of the project are negotiated between the EPA and GE.
— The cleanup permit unveiled by the federal agency on June 1 lacks comprehensive details about some aspects of the project.
— There is no specific requirement that GE must maintain "full responsibility in perpetuity to monitor, control and/or remove PCBs still remaining in the river once the cleanup is completed.
The letter was drafted by leaders from the group of six, working with Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, and attorneys from the Pawa Law Group, based in Newton. The firm, whose specialties include environmental issues affecting cities and towns, was hired by the communities for $60,000.
Outlining the document for the Lenox Select Board on Wednesday night, Town Manager Christopher Ketchen said it focuses on giving the communities "leverage" on behalf of residents and businesses hit hard by the cleanup. It also outlines state laws to be considered before the PCB removal can begin. EPA officials have predicted it could take up to five years before work gets under way.
The document will be submitted by the Oct. 27 deadline set by the EPA for public comments on the proposed remedy for the river.
Selectman Warren Archey stressed ongoing concern over how the excavated PCBs will be removed, preferably by rail, to an out-of-state, federally licensed disposal site.
The prospect of up to 48,000 truck trips in and out of Lenox during the five-year cleanup has created high anxiety, Archey noted. The potential for accidents as well as wear and tear on roadways, bridges, and the disruption of traffic are among the greatest worries, he added.
"This letter does a really good job of asserting the six towns' desire to have a role in the ongoing discussions," Select Board Chairman Channing Gibson said. 'That's the thing that's most frustrating ... once the details are set, theoretically, we don't have a voice."
The document makes "a very strong demand that we have a voice going forward, after the decisions are made about how this is going to be done," Gibson emphasized.
He also praised the efforts of Lenox resident David Naseman, an attorney, who spotted an omission in the letter involving GE's liability for damage during the cleanup or shortcomings that emerge once the project is completed.
"The lawyers representing the six towns and BRPC were really pleased that somebody found that, because this liability issue is a big deal," Gibson added.
The Select Board unanimously authorized Gibson to sign the letter on behalf of the board and the town of Lenox.
Separately, the town is submitting its own comments to the EPA. That letter questions the effectiveness of the plan since only 25 percent of the PCBs in the river will be removed, Ketchen said.
"We've questioned and expressed concern about whether the disruption is worth the ultimate outcome," he said.
The long-term health of Woods Pond, the hottest spot of PCB contamination in the 10 miles of river from southeast Pittsfield to Lenox, is also questioned in the town's letter. The pond is slated for dredging, capping and deepening to 6 feet from its current 3- to 4-foot level.
The Lenox letter also takes issue with what it describes as the cleanup plan's failure to address not only the potential loss of property values in areas most impacted by the lengthy project but also the effects on neighborhoods' character and social structures.
The EPA proposal also leaves in doubt any role the town could play in easing traffic impact and dealing with safety issues, the document states.
Since the potential route of the Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline through the town includes crossing the river, "the town expects and demands to be part of any conversations or negotiations involving the energy company, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, GE and the EPA, Ketchen declared.
"Most important of all," he stressed, "is that Lenox has to have the opportunity to respond to the final permit agreed to between GE and the EPA. There appears to be no provision for that."
Call Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
Highlights of letter
The letter drafted by leaders of Pittsfield, Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield, with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and the Pawa Law Group, calls on the EPA to change the proposed GE Rest of River cleanup permit to reflect "substantial negative socioeconomic impacts" during cleanup activities:
* GE should be required to identify any businesses to be affected and to evaluate the extent of the impact:
* Those businesses should receive payment from GE for economic losses through a compensation fund to be administered by a third party, preferably locally;
* GE should be required to use local labor and materials as much as possible for all design and cleanup activities;
* The EPA should require GE to measure all impacts to local roads and bridges, canoe and boat launches, docks, etc. and towns should be fully compensated for any and all local infrastructure that has suffered accelerated deterioration because of truck traffic and heavy equipment associated with the remedy.
Source: Housatonic River Rest of River Municipal Committee document to be submitted to the EPA.
To submit comments
Any 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. The final deadline for submitting comments is Oct. 27, 2014.
"The litigation game prevents speedy resolve on Rest of River"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, December 6, 2014
It's not surprising General Electric disagreed with the Environmental Protection Agency's plan for cleaning the rest of the Housatonic River from PCB contamination.
This is going to be a lengthy, extremely expensive exercise, however it shakes out. Given those parameters, it would have been surprising if GE agreed with everything the EPA proposed.
Agreements like this are usually subjected to the art of negotiation. But according to the EPA, it looks like GE may have chosen litigation instead.
Appeals and potential lawsuits filed in federal courts are expected to delay the cleanup project anywhere between three and five years, according to Jim Murphy, the EPA's Region 1 spokesman. What the cleanup agreement will look like after it wends its way through the courts is anybody's guess at this point.
It's been well documented how GE polluted the river. Given the current circumstances, it's easy to point fingers at the corporate giant and accuse it of stalling the beginning of the cleanup. But GE has the option of taking advantage of the legal protections that were provided in the 14-year-old consent decree. That pact required the river to be cleaned of contamination, and it has done just that so far.
One issue to keep in mind: Like most entities of its size, GE tends to play hardball. A company that big and with that much influence has the financial resources to keep issues like these going almost indefinitely.
The original negotiations between GE and the EPA that resulted in the consent decree were fractious and hostile. During the late 1990s, talks between the two over whether GE's former power transformer facility in Pittsfield should be considered a Superfund site almost reached the breaking point. At the time, GE threatened to wage a "legal scorched earth campaign."
It took the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's personal lobbying of top GE officials to bring the company and the EPA back to the negotiating table. No one is suggesting that the same situation will occur again, but legal battles of this magnitude can get ugly.
The residents of Berkshire County are the ones who pay the highest price in all of this. Our interest is in a clean river, but we have to sit on the sidelines while all these legal processes play themselves out. That's the reality, but given all the delays and maneuvering that have surrounded this project from the get-go, it still seems unfair.
"Rest of the River cleanup: GE's challenge expected to delay start of restoration 3 to 5 years"
By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, 12/05/2014
The federal government has proposed a massive removal of toxic PCB chemicals from "hot spots" along the Housatonic River from southeast Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox, a 10.5 mile stretch. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)
General Electric's wide-ranging, strongly worded rejection of the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Rest of River PCB cleanup remedy for the Housatonic increases the prospect of a prolonged legal confrontation, an official with the EPA has confirmed.
Jim Murphy, the EPA's Region 1 Boston-based spokesman, said the federal agency will study the company's formal comment before issuing a response next spring. Other public comments are also being evaluated, he added.
The EPA will notify GE of its "intended final decision within the next year, which might include some revisions based on comments filed by the public as well as GE," he told The Eagle on Thursday. However, Murphy pointed out, the agency could choose to stick with the approach it has put forward.
But a series of appeals by GE and others, and potential lawsuits in federal courts, are expected to delay the cleanup for 3 to 5 years, Murphy acknowledged — a timetable that has remained unchanged since the EPA unveiled its proposal last May 31.
That time frame includes a 2- to 3-year period to design the specified cleanup following the final decision, he explained.
If the company still disputes the EPA's intended final decision, it could toss the issue to dispute resolution at the agency's Boston office, as outlined in the original consent decree approved by a federal court 14 years ago that provides the legal framework for the river cleanup effort.
Murphy described the dispute resolution option as a structured negotiation process beginning with discussions at the project team level with potential participation from senior EPA and GE officials, progressing to an exchange of written position papers during the proceedings.
Assuming no agreement can be reached, GE then could take its case to the agency's Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C., and if the issue remains unresolved, to the U.S. Court of Appeals First Circuit in Boston.
A sign warning of the dangers of PCBs in game stands at the Decker Canow Launch in Lenox on the Housatonic River. (Ben Garver Berkshire Eagle)
The federal government has proposed a massive removal of toxic PCB chemicals from "hot spots" along the Housatonic from southeast Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox, a 10.5 mile stretch. A less-invasive cleanup is proposed for segments of the river from Lee to Great Barrington.
The cleanup, which would require 13 years to complete and cost GE at least $619 million, calls for dredging, excavation and removal of contaminated soil and sediment to an out-of-state, federally licensed disposal site, as well as capping of the riverbed to trap any remaining PCBs, which are believed to cause cancer.
Some environmental groups have criticized the plan as not aggressive enough, since about one-quarter of the chemicals would remain. The EPA considered nine options from no action to a nearly $1 billion, 50-year remedy. The agency chose the second most far-reaching approach.
GE released PCBs into the river from its Pittsfield electric transformer plant from 1932 until the chemical was banned by the U.S. government in 1977.
In its voluminous formal objection, GE complained that the federal proposal "is almost three times larger than the one proposed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" and "would involve more removal, from more areas, with more negative impacts, and more cost."
The company argued that it had "stretched as far as it could to try to achieve a consensus on a common-sense solution to the PCBs in the Rest of River and was prepared to undertake one of the largest river cleanups in history."
GE also asserted that the legal basis for the cleanup "does not allow EPA to propose a remedy that will do more overall harm than good, or to ask GE to spend unlimited amounts of money and effort to achieve speculative or minimal incremental benefits."
While not denying the presence of PCBs in the river for more than 70 years, the company asserted that the river, "along with its unique forested banks and floodplains and associated wetlands, including dozens of irreplaceable vernal pools, all continue to support a rich variety of plant and animal life. Indeed, the Rest of River is home to many state-listed rare species that have not been able to maintain their footholds elsewhere."
Describing the Rest of River as "a vulnerable and even a fragile place," GE declared that "nearly any effort to remediate PCBs will disrupt it to some extent, and any aggressive cleanup effort will disrupt it beyond recognition and repair – clear cutting its forests, removing its delicate vernal pools, dredging the riverbed and wetlands, eliminating rare steep riverbanks carved by time and nature — destroying the habitats provided by these sensitive areas and destroying or displacing their many animal and plant inhabitants."
The company also blasted the EPA's requirement for out-of-state PCB disposal as "no more beneficial to the environment or the people of the Berkshires than on-site disposal in a secure upland facility on-site. In fact, out-of-state disposal could be more disruptive and will certainly be far more expensive, costing GE about a quarter of a billion dollars more to implement than on-site disposal."
GE also argued that the EPA's insistence on out-of-state disposal is based on "avoidance of local opposition" from government officials as well as the general public.
Signaling that a long legal battle appears inevitable, the company stated that it remains committed to a "responsible remedy" for the Rest of River.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551. @BE_cfanto on Twitter email@example.com
Year (2014) In Review: 'Rest of River' plan released
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, December 30, 2014
In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its plan to require the General Electric Co. to clean the Housatonic River of PCB contamination south of Pittsfield.
The $613 million proposal would take about 13 years to complete. A key point in the proposal would require all contaminated material removed from the river to be transported out of Berkshire County.
In response, GE in October called the proposal, "wrong (even dangerous)" because it claimed the extensive cleanup would destroy "substantial" portions of the rest of the river.
The EPA's response to GE's comments is expected in the spring, with a final decision due sometime in 2015. Even so, EPA spokesman Jim Murphy said appeals and potential lawsuits could delay the cleanup of the rest of the river for three to five years.
"Unkamet Brook Remediation: Next phase of PCB cleanup underway off Dalton Avenue"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 3, 2015
PITTSFIELD - The next two phases of the environmental cleanup of former GE sites in Pittsfield have begun with preliminary excavation work off Dalton and Plastics avenues.
The project will remove PCBs or other pollution from two adjacent areas along the Unkamet Brook, add a protective cap to a former GE landfill site, and remove contaminated soils and replace that with clean backfill, according to federal Environmental Protection Agency officials.
The work represents the 19th and 20th areas cleaned up following the 2000 consent decree agreement to deal with contamination at former GE industrial sites and downstream along the Housatonic River. The two sections will be done in stages, during 2015 and 2016.
These are the last cleanup segments to be completed before sections of the river and its channel south of the central city are addressed in what is called the Rest of River cleanup phase. Details of that work have yet to be finalized.
David Dickerson, project manager for the EPA, said the work in progress now off Dalton and Plastics avenues involves removal of about two acres of phragmite reed, an invasive species, and a layer of soil, which will be taken to a disposal facility out of the area.
"This is some advance work that we can do now," Dickerson said.
That work will take about 40 days, he said, adding that other preliminary site preparation will be done during the winter months before the Maxymillian Technologies crews take a break while awaiting warmer weather in April.
From April through December 2015, crews will be working in an area between Dalton Avenue and Merrill Road, Dickerson said, and that cleanup will include removal of some 26,000 cubic yards of PCB contaminated soil for disposal and adding protective layers over a seven-acre former GE landfill.
During the work, one of the eastbound lanes of Dalton Avenue will be closed at times during work hours, and there will be increased truck traffic at times.
Scheduled in 2016 is work south of Merrill Road. It will include removal of 1,900 cubic yards of sediment from Unkamet Brook — about one foot deep — from Dalton Avenue to the Housatonic, followed by placement of clean backfill. The course of Unkamet Brook also will be shifted east and away from the former GE landfill, Dickerson said, back to what is believed to be its original course.
Other work to be performed includes removal of contaminated sediment from four culvert pipes that the brook flows through on its way to the river.
Ward 4 City Councilor Christopher Connell, who has been monitoring the cleanup process, said the parcel now being addressed in Pittsfield is mostly industrial land, and he has not heard any complaints or comments from residents.
However, the section south of Merrill Road, including Unkamet Brook and land down to the Housatonic River, does have "a dozen or so houses pretty close to the action," he said, adding that there may be some residents with concerns.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said he doesn't believe the current cleanup work will have a significant negative impact on the areas involved. "But I think it will prepare us for the next phase," he said, referring to the Rest of River cleanup.
He said the communities along the route and the public have to remain vigilant in monitoring that process because of the potential impacts on the region.
Concerning the Rest of River cleanup, Jim Murphy, a spokesman for the EPA regional office in Boston, said the agency is still reviewing comments on its initial proposal for addressing pollution in about seven miles along the Housatonic. The preliminary plan as drawn criticism from some residents of the affected areas, from representatives of the city and towns south of Pittsfield, and from GE.
Murphy said the next step is for the EPA to issue a formal response to the comments it has received on its proposal, which is estimated to cost at least $619 million and take more than a decade to complete. GE, which is funding the cleanup work, will be informed first of the EPA's formal response, he said, and will have an opportunity to engage in a dispute resolution process.
The EPA expects to release a final plan for cleanup of PCB pollution in the Rest of River sections later on during 2015, he said. That could be appealed administratively to the EPA Appeals Board or ultimately to the federal courts system.
Reach Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. firstname.lastname@example.org @BE_therrien on Twitter
Workers from Maxymillian Construction remove phragmites, an invasive species, from a swampy area near Dalton Avenue in Pittsfield. The work is part of a restoration that will later include PCB cleanup in another section of the area. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)
U.S. EPA - Housatonic River -
Hold the Date: The next meeting of the Housatonic CCC will be on April 15  from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. This meeting will be held in Kent CT (at Kent Town Hall, 41 Kent Green Blvd, Kent, CT 06757).
We will post the meeting agenda closer to the date of the meeting.
From 1932 to 1977 a General Electric plant in Pittsfield, Massachusetts polluted the river with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), a known carcinogen.
Members of the public are invited to attend and participate in discussions.
The Pittsfield Economic Development Agency is preparing to fight new requirements the federal EPA seeks to impose on the property's stormwater runoff.
"PEDA Fighting New EPA Requirements"
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, April 16, 2015
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The federal government is looking to raise the quality of the storm water running through the William Stanley Business Park, which is now PEDA's liability.
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a draft permit that calls for significant more water monitoring and efforts to improve the stormwater quality, which officials say could both hamper development of the property and cost the organization more money.
"They are substantially higher quality requirements now and they could cost the city and taxpayers thousands or millions of dollars and potentially stymie economic development growth at the park," said Pittsfield Economic Development Agency Executive Director Corydon Thurston.
"I have a real challenge with this requirement in that, the standards are so much greater than EPA had previously required the property to be remediated to. We've been meeting those standards since the remediation efforts took place and the property was transferred to PEDA. Now it is our hands and they are changing the rules in the middle of the game."
General Electric had polluted the park and later cleaned the land up to standards first established in a 1992 permit and provided, through negotiations, money for the PEDA to redevelop the former manufacturing property. In 2005, the land reached those requirements and the EPA signed off on transferring the property from G.E. to PEDA to redevelop.
"They required GE to clean the property to X and now they want Y. We can't go back and clean the property, we don't have the funds to do it. We took it only after EPA had essentially declared it as meeting the standards," Thurston said.
On April 8, the EPA issued the new permit that will require the park to be in line with the federal and state Clean Water Acts. The new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit supersedes the previous permits and not only has lower thresholds for pollution but also requires more testing.
That draft is now out for public comment and PEDA's attorneys and environmental team are preparing to fight the requirements. The organization has until June 6 to file all of its objections.
"The draft permit has been issued, which started the clock on our response," Thurston said. "We will object to most of the provisions."
Currently, some 90 acres of city land also drains through the park's runoff system, according to Thurston, and the water is tested monthly. Should the new permit be approved as is, the city may be required to disconnect from PEDA's stormwater system and reconnect elsewhere so the stormwater stays on the park. Another option is to reduce the area for development to increase the amount of natural absorption.
"We're looking at various scenarios and different solutions. We'll make our comments and, hopefully, we have a settlement that works for everybody," Thurston said.
The testing for PCBs, oil and grease, and suspended solids are currently done monthly costing PEDA some $15,000 a year. The new permit would quadruple the amount of testing, bumping those tests up to weekly and adding more chemicals and bacteria to be monitored.
"Now they want the tests weekly instead of monthly and they added 10 more tests that they want to see done, I believe, of a variety of other chemicals," Thurston said. "It is over four times the current cost just for the monitoring and test reporting requirements."
The monitoring, testing, and reporting could jump to more than $50,000 per year, the executive director said.
“PEDA, environmentalists differ on EPA stormwater plan”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, May 26, 2015
PITTSFIELD - Newer and stricter federal standards regulating stormwater discharge into Silver Lake would "unfairly burden" both the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and the city of Pittsfield, according to PEDA's Executive Director Cory Thurston.
Speaking at a public hearing held last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Thurston said the regulatory action suggested by the EPA "directly conflicts" with the intent of the agreement that created PEDA, the quasi-public agency that is charged with developing the 52-acre William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.
He also believes the EPA's action "conflicts" with the "fundamental terms" of the Consent Decree, which requires the General Electric Co. to clean up PCB contamination in the city of Pittsfield. The Stanley Business Park is located on 52 acres of GE's former power transformer facility.
The EPA held the public hearing at its Pittsfield Field Office on Lyman Street seeking comment on a draft discharge permit that it has issued pertaining to PEDA's discharge of stormwater and contaminated ground water into Silver Lake, which is part of the Stanley Business Park. Thurston provided a copy of his comments to The Eagle.
The EPA is expected to take comments at the public hearing into consideration when it issues a final version of the draft discharge permit. The deadline to submit written comments to the EPA on the draft discharge permit expires on June 6.
EPA spokesman Jim Murphy said the organization will sift through the comments made at the public hearing and determine which ones will be involved in the final permit.
If the process were relatively "straightforward" and "simple," Murphy said, the EPA could issue a final permit this summer. If it becomes more involved, the final permit probably won't be issued until the fall or next winter, Murphy said last week the EPA was already leaning toward the latter scenario based on some of the ideas that were brought forward by PEDA at the public hearing.
"It's already kind of past straightforward," Murphy said.
"We will certainly consider the comments and incorporate them as we see appropriate," Murphy said. "But it may take some time."
"It was a good wide range of comments," he said. "I wouldn't characterize them in any way. It will take us time to consider them all."
According to Thurston, six people spoke at the public hearing, including Pittsfield residents Bruce and Jane Winn of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team. In a telephone interview, Jane Winn, who is BEAT's president, said her organization was in favor of the new federal requirements, which contain stricter monitoring regulations in the lake water for the presence of PCBs. GE used PCBs, which are considered to be a cause of cancer in humans, at its Pittsfield plant until the federal government banned the chemical in 1977.
The proposed federal regulations are much stricter than what is contained in the original permit, which the EPA granted to GE in 1992. The permit expired in 1997, but its stipulations have remained in effect. Jurisdiction was transferred to PEDA in 2005, when it began obtaining ownership of the property from GE. PEDA originally applied to renew the permit 10 years ago, Thurston said.
Thurston has previously said that compliance with the new standards could cost PEDA an additional $50,000 annually, a sum he claims could bankrupt the quasi-public agency which has a limited amount of revenue.
"The philosophical issue here for PEDA is the fact that the city and PEDA relied on the Consent Decree and other elements that were in place for the taking of the property," he said last week. "Changing the rules at the 11th hour ... is unfair and misplaced.
"You can't possibly have groundwater that's any cleaner than the soils it comes from," Thurston said. "It's the EPA that has to challenge the Consent Decree and they shouldn't be putting the burden on the city.
"In our view, they waited all those years to issue this permit that we applied for in 2005 after we get all the land ready for development," he said. "They want stiffer standards, but it's impossible for us to do more than GE was required to do in the first place."
Thurston said his comments will be part of PEDA's formal response to the EPA, which will contain more technical and legal detail, and be submitted before the written comment period expires next month. PEDA board member Pamela Green also spoke at the hearing, according to Thurston.
Speaking on behalf of BEAT, Winn said the organization is "very supportive" of EPA's draft permit.
"Mr. Thurston said it was an unfair burden and stringent, but we feel very strongly that the permit must protect humans and environmental health," she said.
She characterized the draft permit's new limitations on PCBs levels in Silver Lake as "good strict limits," adding that those standards are becoming lower as detection systems "get better and better."
Thurston said he understands that people are worried about PCB levels in the ground and water, but added "the levels were talking about are microscopic.
"The measurements we've been taking have been well below the required remediation standards made for Silver Lake and the property," he said. "Zero PCBs have been entering Silver Lake out of our basin for the last 10 months."
BEAT's interpretation of the consent decree is that GE, not the EPA or PEDA, should be responsible for any remaining PCB contamination at the site and that the corporate giant "should still be paying for this," Winn said.
Winn said BEAT also intends to submit formal comments to the EPA before the conclusion of the written comment period.
Two-thirds of the stormwater that discharges through PEDA-owned property originates in 91 acres of city property that is located outside the Stanley Business Park.
The city of Pittsfield did not send representatives to the public hearing, according to Thurston.
"I'm hopeful that the city will be making written comments because this potentially has a big impact on them as well," Thurston said.
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. email@example.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.
“BHS trustees honor former judge, laud collaboration”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, September 21, 2015
PITTSFIELD - More than 300 people packed a large tent on the grounds of the Berkshire Medical Center Cancer Center on Tor Court Monday to honor former Judge Rudolph Sacco and to celebrate an agreement with the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Care Collaborative.
The outdoor gathering followed an annual meeting of the Berkshire Health Systems Board of Trustees. President and CEO David Phelps announced that, during the meeting, Sacco, a probate and family court judge who worked in three Western Massachusetts counties over 25 years and retired in 1997, was selected to receive the annual Francis X. Doyle Award.
Named for the longtime Berkshire Health Systems board member and established in 1998, the Doyle Award honors individuals who "have made significant contributions to the health and well being of the area," Phelps said.
Timothy Doherty, chairman of the BHS trustees, thanked Sacco for his efforts both personally and professionally throughout the community and the region. He made "countless contributions to many organizations that make the Berkshires a better place to live and work," Doherty said.
You don't know how thrilled I am and also humbled to be up here," Sacco said.
He said the honor was especially meaningful to him because Doyle "was a neighbor of mine, and he was a great community leader, and he extended himself to many organizations."
Doherty also read a citation from the state Senate honoring Sacco.
In announcing the collaboration between the BMC Cancer Center and the prestigious Boston-area cancer institutions, Phelps also outlined progress in the creation of the cancer center on the Hillcrest campus of BMC.
Planning for the comprehensive regional cancer treatment at the site — estimated to cost in the range of range of $35 million — began in earnest more than three years ago, he said. The center was to be created in three phases, two of which have been completed and the third will be finished next month, Phelps said.
The overriding goals, Phelps said, were to create a state-of-the art center for the patients and their families that was "exceptional in every way," as well as to attract new physicians and other staff members to work there.
Recognizing the importance of collaboration and learning from the work and reviews of others in the field, the leaders of the cancer center and of BHS have been discussing a formal agreement since the early days of the Pittsfield center, he said.
Dr. Andrew Norden, Dana-Farber Institute's associate chief medical officer, said the collaborative agreement with the BMC center "is designed to be a long-lasting partnership," and is one that has been under discussion and review for several years.
The agreement makes the BMC center the first other than Dana-Farber and Brigham Women's to be named to be brought into the collaboration.
Norden said he and others saw "an obvious level of commitment" to patient care at the Pittsfield center, but officials took time to ensure that level could be sustained. The discussion included a visit that brought 18 people from the eastern Massachusetts institutions to the city.
Attending the event Monday were a number of local officials Berkshire County area state representatives and other state or regional officials, as well as members of the medical community and board members.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.
Woods Pond in Lenox marks the endpoint of a 10.5 mile stretch of Housatonic River targeted for excavation and capping of contaminated sediment from the riverbed. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)
The confluence of the East and West branches of the Housatonic River at Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield is the northernmost segment of the "Rest of River" cleanup project. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)
Woods Pond in Lenox marks the endpoint of the next phase of remediation of the Housatonic River from PCB pollution. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)
"EPA releases updated Housatonic River cleanup plan"
By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, October 5, 2015
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has delivered its marching orders to General Electric for a massive, $613 million PCB cleanup project.
The cleanup includes excavation and capping of most PCBs along a 10.5-mile stretch of the Housatonic River between Fred Garner Park in southeast Pittsfield and the heavily contaminated Woods Pond in Lenox.
The agency's "intended final decision" on the plan, issued in consultation with environmental agencies in Massachusetts and Connecticut, updates its original proposal unveiled in June 2014.
It calls for dredging the suspected cancer-causing chemicals from eight miles of the river, including Woods Pond. Two miles of less-extensive hot-spot removal would stretch from the Pittsfield-Lenox border south to Roaring Brook in Lenox.
From start to finish, the project, known as the "Rest of River" segment of the Housatonic cleanup, would extend over 13 years, with most of the major work during the first eight years.
The dredging, excavation and capping of soil and sediment from the waterway, riverbank, backwaters and floodplain would eliminate 89 percent of the toxins that now spill over the dam at Woods Pond, according to the EPA. Woods Pond would be excavated and then refilled to a greater depth, up to 6 feet, compared to the current 3 feet.
During that phase, an estimated 43,000 truck trips, bringing in clean fill and removing contaminated material, would be required.
Downstream, a reduced-impact cleanup is proposed south of Lenox to Great Barrington, including Rising Pond in the village of Housatonic.
Overall, the project would require GE to "address PCB contamination" in river sediment, banks, floodplain soil and the river's animal and plant life that poses "unacceptable risks to human health and to the environment," the EPA document stated.
When completed, the agency stated, the cleanup would reduce downstream transport of PCBs, allow for relaxing or removing fish consumption advisories, and avoid, minimize or reduce harmful impacts to state-listed species and their habitats regulated under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act.
The start date for the project remains uncertain since GE has until Oct. 30 to dispute the EPA's work order through administrative hearings before the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board.
If no settlement is reached with the company, the EPA will issue a final decision, which could trigger a legal appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston by the company, state and local governments or groups and members of the public who submitted formal comments last year.
Even after all appeals are exhausted and the EPA permit for the project is issued, design work is expected to require two to three years.
There will be no public comment period for the EPA's provisional final plan. However, the Housatonic Citizens Coordinating Council, a working group representing stakeholders, has an open meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18 at the Lenox Library.
The original proposal triggered public meetings, formation of a committee representing six communities along the river from Pittsfield to Sheffield, and numerous comments, which EPA will address in writing once the final permit for the work is issued.
As outlined in the plan, contaminated PCB material would be trucked or shipped by rail out of the county to a federally licensed waste disposal facility.
GE discharged PCBs into the Housatonic from its Pittsfield electrical transformer plant from the 1930s until 1977, when the U.S. government banned the use of the chemical.
A revision in the EPA's "intended final decision" requires GE to conduct "appropriate future response actions" after the project's completion but eliminates a requirement for the company "to pay for incremental costs associated with the presence of PCBs."
Another change from the June 2014 proposal adds safeguards "to enhance coordination with impacted municipalities and landowners during design and construction."
The provisional decision also waives "certain additional laws and regulations where it has been determined that it is technically impractical to comply with such regulations in conducting the cleanup."
The just-released plan also offers approaches to the cleanup of contaminated vernal pools either by using activated carbon to reduce PCBs or, if that is ineffective, by excavating and restoring the pools.
GE would be required to return areas of the riverbed, riverbanks, floodplain and wetland habitat to the same conditions prior to the cleanup through a detailed restoration plan.
The EPA's plan also states that any new release of hazardous waste to the environment during the cleanup must be minimized by GE by taking "all reasonable steps ... to prevent significant adverse impacts on human health and/or the environment."
In addition, GE must maintain air monitoring and "dust suppression measures" until excavation and transportation of the material, and the capping of soil and sediment, is completed.
The leading environmental advocate for the river threw ice water on the cleanup plan on Monday.
"We believe this is the weakest cleanup plan ever put out for any river in the nation," said Tim Grey, the Housatonic Riverkeeper and executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative. "We feel it sets the stage for leaving massive amounts of PCBs in the river and it opens a big legal hole for leaving dumps along the river."
Grey, 62, who has been involved in the PCB saga since he began collecting river samples in 1976, said his group and a coalition of other environmental groups "which are all on the same page" believe that the plan will leave the river contaminated for many years to come.
A company statement issued Monday declared that "GE will be carefully reviewing EPA's intended final decision. We look forward to working with EPA toward a common sense solution for the Rest of River that protects human health and the environment as well as complies with the Pittsfield-Housatonic Consent Decree approved by the federal court."
The Rest of River project is the final element of a cleanup outlined in a consent decree involving GE, the U.S. EPA, Massachusetts and Connecticut state agencies, the city of Pittsfield and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. The decree, a civil action by the U.S. vs. GE, was filed in U.S. District Court, Springfield, in October 2000.
Before proposing its remedy, the EPA considered nine options ranging from no action to a nearly $1 billion, 50-year project. It chose the third most far-reaching approach.
GE's PCB removal from two miles of the river south of the former GE plant was completed in 2006 at a cost of about $100 million, followed by a cleanup of Silver Lake and nearby areas. The company compensated the city through a $25 million economic development fund, including $15 million to help develop the William Stanley Industrial Park.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551. firstname.lastname@example.org @BE_cfanto on Twitter.
Project goal: Reduce downstream movement of PCBs, relax or remove fish-consumption warnings, and avoid, minimize or ease impact on wildlife species, especially waterfowl and their habitats along the river.
Cleanup impact: Major portions of the 10.5-mile segment from Fred Garner Park to Woods Pond require excavation and capping of contaminated sediment from the riverbed and from some areas of the floodplain adjoining the river, including vernal pools. Affected areas would be restored.
• A 5-mile stretch from the East and West branch confluence in southeast Pittsfield to the Lenox border requires excavation and restoration of the riverbed and banks.
• A 2-mile segment from the Pittsfield-Lenox border to Roaring Brook in Lenox would require more limited "hot spot" PCB removal.
• Removal of riverbed sediment and capping are planned along the 3 miles between Roaring Brook and the headwaters of Woods Pond, but riverbanks would be left intact.
• Woods Pond: Removal of contaminated sediment and placement of a cap, creating a minimum water depth of six feet.
• Lee and Stockbridge: Either removal of four dams or sediment removal and capping.
• Great Barrington: At Rising Pond in the village of Housatonic, PCBs would be removed and sediment would be capped, or GE could excavate the sediment.
• Downstream: Flowing-river sections through Connecticut would be monitored for natural recovery, relying on physical, chemical and biological techniques to isolate, destroy and otherwise reduce exposure to PCB contamination.
Long-term monitoring: Continuous studies to determine the effectiveness of the cleanup as well as the recovery of the river and floodplain.
Information: The documents provided by the EPA to GE are on the EPA website: http://www2.epa.gov/ge-housatonic
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documented posted on Friday.
October 5, 2015
Re: Clarence Fanto's omission!
Dear Clarence Fanto,
Once again, your news article today, 10/5/2015, concerning the EPA's so called clean up of toxic waste chemicals called PCBs in central to southern Berkshire County omits a critical fact!
The caps, which are used on a majority of so called clean up sites, are finite. That means the caps do not last forever! Most of Pittsfield's PCBs are capped. Once the caps expire, the PCBs will pollute Pittsfield and the Housatonic River just like prior to the so called clean up.
I have written this fact to you, which you continue to omit in your news articles that seem to favor both the EPA and GE.
The Consent Decree, the EPA, and GE are all wrong and these proceedings are fraudulent!
“Ambitious EPA plan to restore Housatonic”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, October 7, 2015
The clean-up of the Housatonic River that began late in the 20th century with planning leading to the Consent Decree will extend well into the 21st. Someday, however, this will be a dramatically cleaner river.
That some in the local environmental community are dissatisfied with a plan that General Electric is certain to protest as overkill indicates that the Environmental Protection Agency found a good middle ground (Eagle, Oct. 5.) In fact, in choosing the third most extensive clean-up of its nine options, the EPA went past the middle to an ambitious effort in keeping with the considerable task at hand.
The $613 million "Rest of River" project calls for dredging eight miles of the 10-1/2 mile stretch with PCB hot spots addressed in the remainder of the river. The dredging, excavation and capping would remove 89 percent of the contamination from the river, its banks and backwaters, and the PCB-laden material removed would transported away rather than placed in a local landfill as was so controversial in Pittsfield. A provision added to the 2014 proposal is designed to encourage coordination with communities and landowners during the design and construction phase.
Even without factoring in lawsuits from General Electric and/or the environmental community, this project would take at least 13 years to complete. It is a painfully slow process, but the EPA has produced a tough, aggressive plan that factors in lessons learned from the Pittsfield cleanup. It will, if carried out, produce a cleaner river than the Berkshires could have ever hoped for two or three decades ago.
October 7, 2015
Re: The Berkshire Eagle Editors are unconscionable!
For over one and one-half decade, The Berkshire Eagle Editors have written favorable editorials in favor of the Consent Decree and the so-called clean up of GE’s cancer causing chemicals called PCBs in Pittsfield and the Housatonic River. The Eagle Editors never once criticized the inadequate, so called clean up of a toxic waste chemical that has and will continue cause the suffering and deaths of thousands of local residents from cancer. Now today, the Eagle Editors criticize the rightful critics of this travesty.
The Consent Decree has left Pittsfield and the Housatonic River polluted with a dangerous chemical that kills people! The Consent Decree capped, instead of removed, most of Pittsfield’s PCBs. The Eagle Editors continue to omit the fact that the caps do not last forever. The caps have a limited lifespan that last between 20 to 30 years. From day one, a cap can become defective and may need to be fixed or replaced. The caps and the pollutants need to be monitored on a daily basis. That is not being done!
People’s very lives are at risk due to the Consent Decree. The Eagle Editors do not care about human life, suffering, and death from PCBs. Instead, the Eagle Editors criticize the very people who care about this tragic situation that has impacted the people of Pittsfield for generations. I am not intimidated from standing up to the Eagle, GE, the EPA, or anyone else, in order to state the truth and stand up for the people of Pittsfield!
- Jonathan Melle
Lenox: "Housatonic River Initiative hosts PCB forum"
The Berkshire Eagle, November 6, 2015
The Housatonic River Initiative announces a PCB forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10, at the Lenox Town Hall, 6 Walker St.
The forum will explore the known health effects of PCBs and the latest scientific findings.
Guest speaker is David Carpenter, a neurotoxicologist and professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Toxicology in the School of Public Health at State University of New York, Albany.
Information: Tim Gray, Housatonic River Initiative, at 413-446-2520.
Woods Pond in Lenox, which is fed by the Housatonic River, would be dredged and then refilled to a greater depth, up to 6 feet, compared to the current 3 feet, under the proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)
Rest of River: “EPA, GE talks on cleanup plan enter critical phase”
By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, December 21, 2015
Complex negotiations between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and General Electric are moving into a decisive phase on the scope of the Rest of River PCB cleanup along the Housatonic south of Pittsfield.
While informal, confidential discussions are continuing with a mediator in Washington, D.C., both sides also are moving into a formal "dispute resolution" procedure in order to seek a potential agreement within the next several months.
"We want to stay on track, keep the mediation process moving but also move into the formal phase with a timetable," said Boston-based EPA official Jim Murphy.
The agency's "intended final decision" on the plan was issued three months ago in consultation with environmental agencies in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
In a recent letter to the EPA's senior environmental counsel, GE attorney Thomas Hill confirmed an agreement by both sides to extend the informal mediation effort until March 16, unless either party chooses to terminate it sooner. The previous deadline for the talks had been Dec. 18.
The Dec. 9 letter, made public late last week, also states that the formal attempt to resolve differences has a series of upcoming deadlines. By Jan. 19, GE must issue its written position statement on the dispute.
Then the EPA responds to GE by Feb. 29. Both statements will be made public.
The third and final exchange has a March 15 deadline — GE's reply to the EPA's response.
In a November letter to the EPA, GE identified the three major issues under discussion with mediator John Bickerman of Bickerman Dispute Resolution in Washington:
• The location of a disposal facility for PCB-contaminated material to be dredged from the river and excavated from the flood plain along the Housatonic between Fred Garner Park in southeast Pittsfield and Woods Pond in Lenox. The pond is the site of the most extensive infestation of the chemical believed to cause cancer.
• The scope of PCB removal from Woods Pond, the extent of dredging required, and the depth of the pond once operations are completed.
• What GE terms "open-ended requirements" for monitoring and maintenance of the 10.5 mile stretch of the river to be cleaned up, including the company's obligations in case of any remaining flow of PCBs.
The company has strongly opposed the EPA's recommendation that PCB waste be shipped to an out-of-state, federally licensed disposal facility. GE contends that a local site would save the company $250 million.
But the federal agency has stated that, because of "community opposition and state regulations," on-site disposal cannot be implemented, even though the EPA considers a local, capped landfill for PCB disposal "just as safe" as a distant facility, Murphy pointed out.
GE discharged PCBs into the Housatonic from its Pittsfield electrical transformer plant from the 1930s until 1977, when the U.S. government banned the use of the chemical.
Bickerman, whose 20-plus years of mediation experience includes major environmental superfund sites, told The Eagle on Monday that "we've had very constructive discussions" but, citing confidentiality requirements, declined to describe the extent of progress made so far.
He described the informal mediation and the formal dispute resolution approaches as "very independent processes."
"Elsewhere in the [United States]," he said, "it's not uncommon to pursue two tracks at the same time."
After the March 15 deadline for comments on the formal dispute resolution procedure, the EPA would designate a senior official in Boston to review the documents and issue a binding decision. There's no timetable for issuing that ruling, Murphy said.
If the hearing official calls for revisions in the EPA's proposed Rest of River plan, the agency would open a period for public comment.
But if no significant revisions are required, the agency would issue its final permit for the cleanup operation.
If GE or the EPA are dissatisfied with the Boston hearing officer's decision, either or both sides can take the dispute to the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C., which functions much like a court, Murphy said. Individuals, organizations or local governments that have submitted comments on the EPA's proposed cleanup plan also would be eligible to file appeals to that board.
Once the board upholds the EPA's plan or seeks revisions, legal appeals could be filed to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, "the court of last resort," as Murphy described it.
As proposed, the $613 million, 13-year project would involve excavation, dredging and removal of contaminated sediment and soil from eight miles of the river, including Woods Pond. Two miles of less extensive PCB removal would stretch from the Pittsfield-Lenox border south to Roaring Brook in Lenox.
Most of the major work would take place over the first eight years.
The dredging, excavation and capping of soil and sediment from the waterway, riverbank, backwaters and floodplain would eliminate 89 percent of the toxins that now spill over the dam at Woods Pond, according to the EPA. The plan calls for Woods Pond to be dredged and then refilled to a greater depth, up to 6 feet, compared to the current 3 feet.
The procedure for resolving the differences between GE and the EPA was outlined in the Consent Decree, a legally binding U.S. District Court settlement reached in 2000 that laid the groundwork for the cleanup of 1.5 miles of contamination in Pittsfield just south of the company's former electrical transformer plant.
Murphy emphasized that municipal leaders from Pittsfield to Sheffield, as well as concerned members of the public, are still welcome to comment or inquire about the settlement talks.
"If people want to take a position, this is a critical time," he noted.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551. email@example.com @BE_cfanto on Twitter
What's next ...
Efforts to resolve differences between GE and the EPA on the scope of the Housatonic Rest of River PCB cleanup project are moving ahead on two tracks:
Jan. 19: Now that both sides have invoked the formal dispute resolution process, GE is due to submit a written statement outlining its position.
Feb. 29: The EPA responds to GE's statement. Both will be made public.
March 15: Deadline for GE's response to EPA's response.
March 16: Deadline for informal mediation discussions, unless either side chooses to end the talks sooner.
TBA: An EPA-designated senior official in Boston evaluates the statements and issues a binding decision.
TBA: If either side disputes that decision, an appeal can be filed to the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C.
TBA: If either side, or other parties to the dispute, disagree with that board's ruling, the case could be routed to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Information: Jim Murphy, who serves as spokesman as well as community involvement coordinator for EPA New England, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 617-918-1028.
January 17, 2016
GE didn't cleanup most of the PCBs chemical toxic waste pollution in Pittsfield! Instead, GE capped the pollution. That is what GE wants to do with most of the Housatonic River, too. Caps do not last forever. From day one, caps need to be monitored for their effectiveness in stopping the spread of pollution. Caps last between 20 to 30 years. After the caps outlive their usefulness, the pollution needs to be cleaned up again and then recapped. It is an ongoing cycle. When GE says "cost effective", they mean capping most of the PCBs in Pittsfield and now the Housatonic River.
- Jonathan Melle
"General Electric Move: Company Getting Massachusetts Subsidies While Fighting Toxic Cleanup Plan"
By Maria Gallucci and David Sirota, International Business Times, January 15, 2016
General Electric’s decision this week to shift its corporate headquarters from Connecticut to Boston was celebrated by Massachusetts state and municipal officials who offered the company roughly $145 million in taxpayer incentives to make the move. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker lauded the announcement, saying he is “confident GE will flourish” in Massachusetts and thrilled the company is prepared “to take advantage of the unique resources that our state has to offer.”
But 130 miles west of the state capital, in the town of Pittsfield, environmental groups have long said GE already took advantage of the state’s resources — by leaking suspected carcinogens into the Housatonic River, and then opposing a plan to remove them. In recent months, the company has resisted a federal agency’s demands for it to clean up more of the toxic mess from its old Pittsfield manufacturing plant — all while the firm was negotiating a deal with Baker’s administration to receive millions in Massachusetts taxpayer subsidies. Those subsidies will add to the $1.3 billion in federal and state subsidies the company and its affiliates have received in the last eight years, even as it has famously employed offshore strategies to lower its state and federal tax bills.
Baker, whose tight 2014 election campaign was backed by a GE-funded political group, does not appear to have made the new subsidies contingent on GE fixing the river even though his own administration is one of the trustees responsible for restoring the Housatonic to health.
Tim Gray, who leads the Housatonic River Initiative, an environmental group in Pittsfield, said he was concerned GE’s move to Boston could give the company greater influence in negotiations with state regulators and environmental officials over the river pollution.
“We fear them moving to Boston will be another pathway they will use to continue to weaken that cleanup,” Gray said. “For them to be very close and accessible to all those agencies, including the governor’s office and any official that’s involved in making decisions on the river, it puts [GE] in an easy place to keep in contact.”
Lizzy Guyton, a spokeswoman for Baker’s office, did not respond directly to questions about environmental groups’ criticisms of GE, instead telling International Business Times in an email: “The Housatonic River is a valuable natural resource that provides a great environmental economic benefit to the western portion of our state.” She added the administration of Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito “remains committed to its cleanup and restoration.” She did not answer questions about the propriety of offering tax incentives to a company that is actively fighting an environmental cleanup proposal in the state.
General Electric similarly did not comment on criticism from environmentalists. Spokesman David Lurie provided an emailed statement on the cleanup efforts. “GE remains committed to a common-sense solution for the Housatonic [river] that is fully protective of human health and the environment, does not result in unnecessary destruction of the surrounding habitat, and is cost effective,” the statement said.
State Sen. Ben Downing, a Democrat from Pittsfield, said he was hopeful the company’s state-subsidized move to Massachusetts will improve the prospects for a cleanup.
“When they talk to the governor, they aren’t just aren’t talking to the governor who helped bring them to downtown Boston,” Downing told New England Public Radio. “They are talking to the governor who wants to make sure that they do right by Pittsfield, Lenox, Lee and the other communities where the rest of the Housatonic River flows.”
Massachusetts Situation Mirrors New York
Baker was elected in 2014 with the help of the Republican Governors Association, which during his election cycle received $240,000 from GE. The company also gave $210,000 to the Democratic Governors Association that cycle, but that group was not as involved in the Massachusetts governor’s race as the GOP group. Since 2008, GE and its political action committee have given the RGA $1.1 million and the DGA $363,000.
GE’s pollution problems in Massachusetts mirror a controversy that unfolded late last year in neighboring New York. There, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered GE big taxpayer subsidies at a time when the company was making the controversial move to shut down its cleanup of the Hudson River — a waterway which, like the Housatonic, was polluted with polychlorinated byphenols, or PCBs, by GE’s manufacturing facilities in the mid-20th century.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned production of PCBs in 1979 after learning of the chemical’s harmful effects on human health and in animals, including links to cancer. But PCBs don’t easily break down in nature, and decades later huge quantities still remain in the nation’s waterways.
Prior to delivering the subsidies, Cuomo — like Baker — had been boosted by GE campaign contributions, and he did not tie his state’s subsidies to GE’s full cleanup of the Hudson River. To the chagrin of environmental groups, he instead did not act to try to block the cleanup from ending.
But whereas New York’s dredging plan had been ongoing, in Massachusetts GE is at once receiving big subsidies and fighting the EPA’s plan to start the next phase of cleanup in a state whose struggle with corporate polluters was made famous in the bestselling book , “A Civil Action.”
‘The State Sold Us Out’
The Housatonic River runs nearly 150 miles from western Massachusetts, through Connecticut and into Long Island Sound. Pittsfield, a town of about 44,000 people, houses the sprawling 250-acre facility where GE once built transformers and capacitors using PCBs as a fire retardant. During the time of PCB use, from 1932 to 1977, some of the facility’s pipes and storage tanks cracked, spewing the oily liquid containing PCBs into the Housatonic. The company also dumped debris containing PCBs along the riverbanks.
After larger flows of PCB-contaminated oil were discovered in the groundwater in 1979, GE built a massive pumping machine to suck out the oil. It also rebuilt a dam downstream, under state orders, to contain PCBs already in the river. When residential lots around Pittsfield began showing dangerously high levels of PCB contamination in the late 1990s, GE agreed to remove tens of thousands of tons of earth from home sites and truck the toxic dirt to a hazardous-waste dump near Buffalo, New York.
The EPA began legal proceedings against GE in 1991 and soon required the company to start initial cleanup work on highly contaminated sediment and bank soils. The agency designated GE’s Pittsfield plant and part of the river as a Superfund site in 1997 — a move company executives strenuously resisted since it would raise costs and responsibilities associated with the site.
GE ultimately reached a $250 million settlement with the EPA, the state of Massachusetts and the city of Pittsfield in 1999. A federal court upheld the binding consent decree a year later.
As part of that decree, GE in 2006 finished a $100 million effort to cleanup the area near its Pittsfield site and a highly contaminated part of the river. The company then in 2010 agreed to begin a second phase of PCB removal from the Housatonic. Four years later, however, the company publicly criticized an EPA proposal to force the company to spend more than $600 million to do just that.
Local environmental groups criticized the EPA’s “Rest of the River” remedy as insufficient.
Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team in Pittsfield, accused state officials of weakening the agreement during meetings. She called the EPA plan “the 25 percent cleanup.”
“It’s going to leave 75 percent of the PCBs still in the river,” she said. “The state sold us out on the cleanup of the Housatonic River.”
Despite the plan’s limited scope, GE filed a letter with the EPA in October attempting to block the plan. The company proposed informal negotiations on disputed issues to narrow the focus of the EPA’s proposal. The letter came a few months before Baker’s administration confirmed it had been pursuing talks with the company about a possible move to Massachusetts.
In the emailed statement, Lurie, the GE spokesman, said the EPA’s plan “fails to achieve” the goals of protecting human health, avoiding unnecessary environmental damage and ensuring cost-effective measures. “GE looks forward to resolving all outstanding issues through the process provided by the Pittsfield/Housatonic Consent Decree,” he said in the statement.
As governor, Baker has significant power over both the awarding of subsidies and environmental agencies that are supposed to oversee GE’s operations in the state. Though details remain sparse, he has said his administration “offered incentives up to $120 million through grants and other programs” to the company. He also controls the Executive Office of Energy and the Environment, which is one of the trustees charged with making sure GE restores the Housatonic to health.
The state energy office did not return IBT’s request for comment by deadline.
The impact of GE’s move to Massachusetts remains unclear. The company said it expects to move roughly 800 jobs to Massachusetts, but the company has notoriously kept billions of dollars of profits offshore, leading to it typically paying a state tax rate of less than 2 percent. One watchdog group said the state and municipal deals to bring GE to Boston is a cautionary tale about how companies play communities off one another to convince public officials to hand out wasteful subsidies that pad the corporate bottom line but do not necessarily help the public.
“Clearly, the company chose Boston for its executive talent pool and research assets,” said Greg Leroy of Good Jobs First, which tracks corporate subsidies across the country. “Why the state and city felt compelled to throw $181,000 per job at GE is beyond me.”
“Nearly 20 years later, cleanup of what GE left behind in Housatonic River still underway”
By Gintautas Dumcius | email@example.com - The Springfield Republican - January 19, 2016
Gov. Charlie Baker still remembers the case of Pittsfield and GE from his first tour of duty in state government.
GE, or General Electric, once had a 254-acre facility in Pittsfield, employing around 13,000 employees. It was a company town, and when the company left, the departure devastated the area.
But GE also left behind a legacy of toxic contamination.
From 1932 to 1977, the company used polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chemicals that weren't banned until 1979.
PCBs hit the soil. Waste from the GE facility led to PCBs discovered in residential areas, an elementary school, the Pittsfield landfill and Dorothy Amos Park.
PCBs also entered the Housatonic River, which flows through Berkshire County, into Connecticut and out to Long Island Sound. The river's watershed has a limestone bedrock and an ecosystem that includes rare plants and contains 37 species of fish.
GE eventually agreed to a $250 million settlement governing the proposed cleanup. The settlement was approved by a court in 2000.
In a letter to the federal Environmental Protection Agency 11 years later, a GE official noted that the company and the EPA have removed PCBs from "much of the former GE plant site in Pittsfield, in nearby areas and the two-mile stretch of the Housatonic River" by the GE plant site and the convergence of the east and west branches of the river.
But the two sides appear to disagree over how to approach the cleanup of the "Rest of River," which stretches from the Pittsfield area to Long Island Sound.
"The EPA is, I believe, in pretty heavy discussions with them about settling that case," Baker told MassLive.com on Monday.
"It's been around for a long time," added Baker, who worked for Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci in the 1990s. "And it's certainly our hope that an agreement is ultimately reached sometime soon, and that the work associated with the final chapter of cleaning up the Housatonic begins."
As the EPA and GE attempt to work out their differences, the company is on its way back to Massachusetts: Last week the conglomerate said it would be moving its global headquarters to Boston, bringing 200 senior executives and 600 other workers to the city's Seaport District. There are currently 5,000 GE employees in Massachusetts.
The GE official who headed up the search committee that picked Boston is Ann Klee, the conglomerate's vice president of environment, health and safety. The company is currently headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut.
In a letter to the EPA in October 2015, Klee said the company "remains committed to a common-sense solution for the Rest of River that is fully protective of human health and the environment," and they are prepared to implement a fix that "would be one of the largest river cleanups in history."
But the company balked at the EPA's proposals, particularly the requirement that GE dispose of over one million cubic yards of sediment and soil out-of-state. "Although out-of-state disposal will be no more protective of human health or the environment than on-site disposal in a secure, state of the art facility, it will cost a quarter of a billion dollars more," Klee wrote.
She added: "GE is even willing to do more than can be legally [required], but there is a limit to how far we can stretch."
A month or so later, Boston and state officials offered an incentive package totaling $145 million for GE to relocate, and the company plans to wrap up the move by 2018.
"There's no connection, in my view, between those two items," Baker said, when asked whether the Housatonic cleanup was brought up as city and state officials wooed GE.
"With respect to the commitment we made to General Electric, to GE, that was mostly, almost completely, a capital and infrastructure commitment, which I believe in the short term and in the long term is going to be a really good investment for the Commonwealth and for the people of Massachusetts," he said.
For its part, the city of Boston has offered to kick in $25 million in property tax relief over 20 years.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, whose district includes Pittsfield, said he's glad GE's relocation and the Housatonic River are separate.
The cleanup of the Housatonic should be based on the need for GE to be held responsible, and it shouldn't be "muddied up" by the politics of relocating its headquarters, Downing said.
"We should be able to have both," Downing said. "A good clean-up that respects the need for GE to be held responsible and the desire of the community surrounding it, and also having the global headquarters here within state. Those two shouldn't be mutually exclusive."
U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., agreed. "I think that two things can be true at the same time: One, that it's good that GE has moved to Massachusetts," he said. "And two, it's also important that GE continue to clean up any of the toxic messes that have been left behind from the 20th century General Electric activities in Massachusetts."
When asked for comment, a GE spokesman sent a statement to MassLive.com, the same one that appeared in the International Business Times, which raised questions about whether it was appropriate to provide incentives to the company as GE pushed back on the EPA's cleanup proposal.
The statement said the company remains "committed to a common sense solution" and "looks forward to resolving all outstanding issues through the process provided by the Pittsfield/Housatonic Consent Decree."
The company did not respond to a follow-up request to interview Klee.
Asked on Monday whether the Housatonic will be cleaned up, Baker sounded an optimistic note.
"I have no doubt about that," he said. "I mean, I get the fact that the discussion's been going on for probably 20 years. But it's my hope that the EPA is going to be interested in getting this thing solved and that GE will be as well."
The river is capable of "returning to a healthy natural state" after a remediation process that includes careful planning and monitoring, the supervisor for the New England office of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Thomas Chapman, wrote in a 2011 letter to the EPA.
But, he added, it's "unlikely that the river will ever clean itself of massive PCB contamination that has existed for many decades and will continue to persist in the future."
The General Electric Co. plant in Pittsfield, Mass., has lain dorment, as seen in this Nov. 25, 1996 photo, since the late 1970's when the use of PCBs was banned. Environmental Negotiators, the City of Pittsfield and General Electric Co. have announced a tentative 150 million dollar agreement to clean the sight and a section of the Housatonic River. (AP Photo/The Berkshire Eagle, Ben Garver)
January 1989 - General Electric employee Rick Hepp leads a group of media and community leaders on a tour of GE's Plastics Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo)
Undated photo of General Electric Plastics in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo)
General Electric Co. officials lead a tour during the opening of the $25 million plastics technology center in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo)
1984 file photo showing the General Electric plastics research center in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo)
9/5/2001- Pittsfield - Part of the old GE plant. Treeger Staff Photo. Don Treeger | firstname.lastname@example.org
9/5/2001- Pittsfield - Part of the old GE plant. Treeger Staff Photo. Don Treeger | email@example.com
9/5/2001- Pittsfield - Old GE plant looms behind Silver Lake and a sign pointing out PCB contamination. Treeger Staff Photo. Don Treeger | firstname.lastname@example.org - The old General Electric plant looms behind Silver Lake in Pittsfield with a sign that points out what residents already know - PCB contamination.
August 9, 1990 - Michael Dukakis, second from right, leaves the General Electric plastics facility in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo)
Construction site for the plastics division at General Electric Co., in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo)
Jan. 12, 1983 - General Electric Company's international plastics research center in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo)
Oct. 22, 1986 - The General Electric plant in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo) The Republican Photo Desk
Feb. 17, 1984 - A tall stack that burns industrial wastes at 2,100 degrees, at the General Electric plant in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo) The Republican Photo Desk
From left, Glen H. Hiner, Lawrence A. Bossidy and Nicholas Boraski wield shovels during the ground-breaking ceremony for the new General Electric center. (Republican file photo) The Republican Photo Desk
Feb. 17, 1984 - Caustic containers at the General Electric plant in Pittsifield. (Republican file photo) The Republican Photo Desk
August 25, 1972 - The main building at General Electric in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo) The Republican Photo Desk
August 1, 1985 - The General Electric office building on Plastics Avenue in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo) The Republican Photo Desk
October 7, 1982 - Genal Plant 12 at the General Electric complex in Pittsfield. (Republican file photo) The Republican Photo Desk
October 18, 1990 - Employees for General Electric in Pittsfield protest inadequate cost-of-living adjustments to their pensions. (Republican file photo) The Republican Photo Desk
Demonstrators hold up signs at the start of the City Council meeting in Pittsfield, Mass., Tuesday night, March 24, 1998. About 50 protesters packed into the jammed council room demanding the city ask the EPA to declare areas of the city and the Housatonic River a Superfund site because of PCB-contaminated soil which came from the General Electric plant several decades ago. (AP Photo/Alan Solomon) General Electric Demonstration The Associated Press
Pittsfield - The GE plastics plant, photographed through the fence on Silver-lake Rd. on Friday, March 26, 1998. Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh The Republican Photo Desk
Pittsfield - The GE plastics plant, photographed through the fence on Silver-lake Rd. on Friday, March 26, 1998. Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh The Republican Photo Desk
Pittsfield - A sign posted on the edge of Silver lake in Pittsfield warns of PCB contamination, near the GE plastics plant. Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh The Republican Photo Desk
June 2, 1989 - The General Electric Polymer Processing Development Center, housing the world's most advanced plastics processing equipment. The Republican Photo Desk
1992 photo of the interior of General Electric's Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield. The Republican Photo Desk
1992 photo of the exterior of General Electric's Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield. The Republican Photo Desk
PCB contamination warning signs surround Silver Lake in Pittsfield, Mass., Friday, June 20, 1997. The old General Electric plant, left, is one of GE's 250-acre complex of plants in the northeast section of the city, where the contamination was thought to be concentrated, including a 55-mile stretch of the Housatonic River from the plant to the Connecticut border. (AP Photo/Alan Solomon) The Associated Press
April 3, 2014 - Photo by Jim Kinney - The William Stanley Businesses Park in Pittsfield, formerly the site of a sprawling General Electric plant, is one possible place where new Red and Orange Line cars for the MBTA could be assembled. Economic development officials in the Berkshires have pledged $2 million to spur the project there. Springfield is also in competition for the plant. Jim Kinney | email@example.com
“In Pittsfield, General Electric plant closures leave bitter memories”
By Shira Schoenberg | firstname.lastname@example.org - The (Springfield) Republican - January 19, 2016
When Ben Downing played Little League in Pittsfield in the late 1980s, he had to learn the shift schedule at the General Electric factory.
"You had to be smart when you left, because you would get stuck in traffic coming out of GE and be late for your game," recalled Downing, now a 34-year-old Democratic state senator from Pittsfield.
It was only one small manifestation of the dominant role GE played in Pittsfield for much of last century.
"The company and the campus dominated the physical landscape of the city, and they dominated the city's economic history, for good and for ill, for the better part of half a century," Downing said.
However, as the company began moving out, gradually laying off workers and shutting down divisions between the 1970s and the early 1990s, GE left behind a bitter taste for many workers. Pittsfield's unemployment rate grew while wages and population shrank. General Electric had emitted toxins into the Housatonic River, the cleanup of which continues to this day.
"When you talk GE in Pittsfield, people remember the loss of jobs and they remember the cleanup more than they remember all that GE did for many years here in giving employment, giving life to the city and being a good citizen," said John Dickson, a historian who chairs the Pittsfield Historical Commission.
General Electric announced last week that it plans to move its international headquarters to Boston, bringing 800 jobs to the city. The company was lured to Massachusetts by lucrative state and city tax incentives. The move is not the company's first foray into the Bay State. GE has over the years had offices and factories around the state. In Western Massachusetts, the company is most known for its time in Pittsfield.
General Electric opened in Pittsfield in 1903, buying an existing electric machinery plant from William Stanley. According to the book "In the Wake of the Giant" by anthropologist Max Kirsch, GE came to dominate employment in Pittsfield in the 1920s and the 1930s, as the textile industry declined. The federal government financed a GE ordnance plant there during World War II. At its peak during the 1940s, the GE plant employed 13,000 people – in a city of just about 50,000.
"It was not a one company town, but it was dominated by that company for many years," Dickson said. "Many people's lives and families were tied up by work there."
But labor unrest in the 1950s and 1960s caused GE to branch out beyond Pittsfield. The manufacturing industry that was so prominent in the region began to fall off in the 1970s, a trend that continued into the 1980s. GE began expanding globally rather than domestically. The Republican reported that there were 91,000 manufacturing jobs in Western Massachusetts in 1980 – compared to only 74,000 six years later.
By the 1980s and early 1990s, GE was shedding workers rapidly in Pittsfield. It closed its transformer division in 1986, eliminating 2,000 jobs, according to a 1988 story in The Republican. GE cut back its ordnance division in 1989, eliminating another 900 positions. In 1990, shrinking federal government defense spending and GE's closure of its electric power equipment manufacturing division due to shrinking markets cost the company another 1,000 jobs. By 1992, between layoffs and the sale of its aerospace division, GE Plastics was the only GE business left in Pittsfield, with 530 employees, the Berkshire Eagle reported.
While GE was active, longtime residents say Pittsfield felt like a company town. The city would shut down for two weeks in the summer when GE workers went on vacation. GE would sponsor a float in the annual Halloween parade. A generation of workers called the company not GE, but "The GE," Downing recalled. Downing said when he was campaigning for his father, who ran for district attorney in 1991, he would stand outside the GE gates at shift changes passing out literature.
GE's economic dominance translated into political clout. "The political life in Pittsfield and its surrounding area would be driven very strongly by what was good for GE," said retired Congressman John Olver, who represented Massachusetts' 1st District from 1991 to 2013.
GE also had an economic ripple effect. Olver said some entrepreneurs left GE to start their own plastics companies, which helped make Pittsfield a plastics center. "There was a whole stable of those, 15 or 20 different companies that grew," Olver said. "Some of them grew to have several hundred employees, some never grew that large at all. But there was a network of those."
During its heyday, workers say GE was a good place to work. "They started a health (benefits) program before anyone else, their pensions were great ... Socially, they were ahead of their time," said Nick Boraski, who worked for GE for 40 years.
Tom Blalock came to GE in 1966, straight out of college. He came to do research in high voltage equipment and stayed until he was laid off in 1987 from GE's transformer testing station.
"(Then-GE CEO) Jack Welch did wonderful things financially with General Electric Company, and we all benefited from it," Blalock said.
But, Blalock said, the layoffs were difficult. "A lot of people that I know were at odds," he said. "They had families, they had kids in college, they had to scramble to figure out what to do."
Blalock bears no animosity toward the company, but he knows not everyone agrees with him. "There's GE guys and non-GE guys. I'm a GE guy," Blalock said. "There's a faction of the populace here that just loathes GE to this day both for leaving and also for leaving PCBs that have to be cleaned up," he said referring to toxic chemicals.
When the plant shut down, many people moved away. GE found new jobs for some workers in other cities. Downing said the leadership of the city and of GE was intertwined and had to be separated. Headlines screamed about layoffs and environmental cleanup. Unemployment rates rose. Dickson said stores shut downtown because of the loss of business from the GE closures. Following a general trend at the time, people moved to the suburbs.
The city still has not entirely recovered economically.
Downing said the 52-acre site that was owned by GE still physically dominates part of the city, though some buildings have found new uses. Some space was taken over by SABIC Innovative Plastics, which bought GE's plastics division. But now SABIC is in the process of shutting down.
"A 52-acre site in the middle of the city is a reminder of the fact that there were ... about 12,000 blue collar jobs in the city at one point or another," Downing said.
Today, the census tracts with the highest poverty rates in Pittsfield are those in the part of the city near the old GE plant, Downing said.
Downing said his generation grew up being told that "the best of this community is behind it."
"To this day in the Berkshires, we are fighting against that perception," Downing said. "And trying to change how people think about their community, that's no small thing."
aeginc77 wrote: I agree. A well written story. Mr. Blalock also wrote a book on the history of manufacturing large power transformers in Pittsfield. Very interesting book. I began my business career in the small transformer business in 1970 and moved from Pittsfield several years later. I was shocked to return 30 years later and see that huge manufacturing site razed! It is amazing that with the loss of over 10000 jobs Pittsfield has survived and appears to be recreating itself.
daltjb wrote: Maybe Mr. Blalock could ask the families of those who died of cancer from working with pcb's (which to this day GE disputes that fact that they hare harmful) of their feelings towards the wonderful jack welch
January 29, 2016
Re: Open letter to Clarence Fanto
Dear Clarence Fanto,
GE’s most recent dispute with the EPA’s proposal to cleanup the Housatonic River from PCBs chemicals are that GE should (a) remove a less amount of PCBs than the EPA proposed, (b) dispose of the removed PCBs in a local landfill instead of an out of state landfill, and (c) cap the majority of the remaining PCBs.
As I have written to you many times prior, the problem with capping PCBs is that the caps do not last forever; they last between 20 to 30 years. As time wears on, the caps become useless because eventually the PCBs will once again contaminate the environment. The Consent Decree that then Mayor Gerry Doyle and then GE CEO Jack Welch signed off on capped a majority of Pittsfield’s PCBs sites. Within a generation or two, Pittsfield will once again test positive for high and dangerous levels of PCBs and the area will become a Superfund site. By then, Gerry Doyle will be an old man, while old Jack Welch will be a memory, but Pittsfield will once again face the threats of cancer from PCBs.
I don’t understand why you, Clarence Fanto, never report the real situation Pittsfield and the Housatonic River faces from GE’s insistence on using caps instead of removing and properly disposing of the PCBs chemicals! It is only a matter of decades before high levels of PCBs turn Pittsfield into a Superfund site!
- Jonathan Melle
“General Electric files letter objecting to EPA's plans for 'Rest of River'”
By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, January 28, 2016
The legal confrontation between GE and the Environmental Protection Agency has escalated this week as the company outlined in stark detail its strong objections to the government's proposed "Rest of River" remedy.
In a letter to EPA officials, GE Vice President of Global Operations Ann Klee offered an olive branch: "GE remains committed to a common-sense solution that is fully protective to human health and the environment."
But Klee wrote that "unfortunately, EPA's intended Rest of River Remedial Action is not such a common-sense solution."
The company declared that it is formally adopting a legal strategy called "formal dispute resolution" in an effort to bridge the considerable gap between the EPA's plan and GE.
The EPA has proposed a $619 million cleanup of PCBs from more than 400 acres along 10.5 miles of Housatonic River from Pittsfield to Lenox. It that would include dredging and trucking about 1 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated soil and sediment to a licensed out-of-state facility.
GE labeled as "unlawful" several aspects of that remedy, including the requirement to send the sediment out of state.
The company is pushing hard for a less-expensive, less-extensive cleanup, primarily by dumping the tainted material excavated from the river and its banks in a nearby landfill. It estimated that its two major counterproposals would save the company about $380 million.
While acknowledging that an ongoing effort to resolve differences through informal mediation would continue until mid-March, the takeaway from the 62-page document suggests that a resolution through the government's Environmental Appeals Board that functions much like a court could be a more likely outcome.
Eventually, the case could wind up in the U.S. Court of Appeals if no agreement is reached.
The company blasted the EPA's Rest of River remedy as "arbitrary and capricious," and as a violation of the legally binding Consent Decree.
The decree, an agreement involving GE, EPA, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pittsfield and other stakeholders, was filed in U.S. District Court, Springfield, in 2000. It outlines specifics of the PCB cleanup for the entire river downstream from the former GE transformer plant in the heart of Pittsfield.
"The company remains ready to resume the mediation process with EPA and is hopeful that we can reach agreement on a common-sense solution for the Rest of River that GE would implement without the need for further dispute resolution proceedings," the letter stated.
Significantly, in its footnoted legal document, charts and exhibits attached to the letter, the company stated that cleanup criteria contained in the Consent Decree "do not include state and community acceptance."
GE accused the EPA of breach-of-contract and of exceeding its authority by including cleanup requirements that are not part of the original decree.
The company, which leached likely cancer-causing PCBs into the Housatonic from its Pittsfield electrical transformer plant from the 1930s until the United States banned the chemical in 1977, labeled the EPA's plan to remove contaminants from the river and its banks along "hot spots" between Fred Garner Park in southeast Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox as "inconsistent" with previous government remedies.
"The anticipated benefits of EPA's unstudied approach are overstated," GE argued, "and the actual benefits achievable by approaches that have been studied are either ignored or downplayed."
The GE document also contended that "the inevitable negative impacts of EPA's Rest of River remedy are dismissed and cost considerations are ignored."
As a prime example, the company insisted that the government's requirement that GE dispose of more than 1 million cubic yards of sediment and soil to an out-of-state site "cannot be reconciled" with previous EPA positions on the issue.
According to GE, "the EPA has repeatedly admitted out-of-state disposal will be no more protective of human health or the environment than on-site disposal in a secure, state-of-the-art facility." In the past, the government agency has emphasized that disposal in the Lenox or Lee area "would be very difficult, if not impossible, to implement" because of widespread community opposition.
But Klee's letter contended that shipping the contaminated material out of state by rail or truck will cost "about a quarter of a billion dollars more which the EPA also admits." GE pointed out that the EPA has approved the disposal of such material "at many other sites in the U.S.," including a landfill near the Allendale School in Pittsfield as well as other locations in the state.
Another prime GE objection to the government plan is the EPA's requirement that Woods Pond in Lenox, the most intense "hot spot" for PCB infiltration, be deepened to 6 feet with the installation of a cap during the cleanup.
The added cost of removing about 340,000 cubic yards of sediment from the pond "ostensibly to reduce concentrations of PCBs in fish in the pond and downstream reaches of the river" would be an estimated $130 million "for no environmental benefit," the company wrote.
GE asserted that EPA's own studies show that the same reductions of contaminants could be reached by removing "only 44,000 cubic yards of sediment with capping of the entire pond."
The EPA's response to the GE broadside is expected by Feb. 29.
The entire GE document can be viewed at http://semspub.epa.gov/src/document/01/586218.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551. email@example.com @BE_cfanto on Twitter.
GE's key points ...
• "EPA has twisted its discussion of the Rest of River remedy selection criteria in an effort to support its intended decision to require out-of-state disposal as the commonwealth has insisted. In fact, the Rest of River remedy selection criteria compel selection of on-site disposal. EPA's selection of out-of-state disposal would conflict with those agreed-upon criteria and therefore violate EPA's Consent Decree obligations, and it would be arbitrary, capricious and unlawful."
• "EPA's Intended Remedy is not necessary to protect health and would cause overall environmental harm and therefore violates the Consent Decree."
• "EPA's Remedy goes beyond what is necessary to protect human health ... EPA's Remedy would cause overall harm to the environment. "
• "EPA's intended Rest of River Remedial Action violates its Consent Decree obligations, exceeds EPA's statutory authority, and is arbitrary, capricious and otherwise unlawful. To eliminate these legal defects, that decision should be revised in the respects discussed in this statement."
Source: GE Statement of Position on the EPA's proposed Rest of River PCB cleanup.
What's next ...
Feb. 29: The EPA responds to GE 's statement.
March 15: Deadline for GE's response to EPA's response.
March 16: Deadline for informal mediation discussions, unless either side chooses to end the talks sooner.
TBA: An EPA-designated senior official in Boston evaluates the statements and issues a binding decision.
TBA: If either side disputes that decision, an appeal can be filed to the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board in Washington.
TBA: If either side, or other parties to the dispute, disagree with that board's ruling, the case could be routed to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Source: Environmental Protection Agency
Woods Pond in Lenox, seen here on Thursday, is one of the focal points for GE's objection to the government's plans to clean up the Housatonic River and its banks. The company says in a statement it would have to spend an extra 130 million to deepen the pond "for no environmental benefit." (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle)
“GE personifies corporate greed, arrogance”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 29, 2016
Anyone still wondering why giant corporations so infuriate average Americans need look no further than General Electric for a prime example.
GE avoids paying taxes, demands corporate welfare, lays off workers and fights efforts to make it clean up its messes. In the latter case, GE is opposed to the EPA's "Rest of River" cleanup of 10.5 miles of the Housatonic River from Pittsfield to Lenox on the dubious grounds that asking it to do anything differently than it has done before in the Berkshires is "unlawful." (Eagle, January 29.)
GE wants to dump excavated PCB-laden material into a local landfill rather than remove it from the scene, and it resists digging deeply into PCB "hot spots" like Woods Pond. The EPA is wisely open to new and possibly better ways of cleaning the river than were done in Pittsfield, while GE appears more intent on dragging its feet until the matter ends up in Circuit Court perhaps years down the road.
On Thursday, the company laid off 59 workers at GE Aviation in Lynn just weeks after it agreed to move its corporate headquarters to Boston. This doesn't exactly make GE look good, but the Baker administration's promise of about $150 million in subsidies and tax credits to GE as an incentive to come to Boston is apparently cast in stone.
GE is bailing out on Fairfield, Connecticut, because it doesn't care for the state's tax policies. On Friday, Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders reminded Iowans that GE used various dodges and loopholes to avoid paying any federal taxes from 2008 to 2013. In that period, GE made $33.9 billion in US profits alone.
Yet the hugely profitable company expects handouts from state taxpayers, including those in the Berkshires who have GE's enduring pollution to remember it by.
“GE is good corporate citizen in Massachusetts”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, February 1, 2016
To the editor:
Your Jan. 30 editorial, "GE personifies corporate greed, arrogance" grossly mischaracterizes GE and how we operate in the communities where we work. We want to correct the record on behalf of the hard-working men and women of GE, including the approximately 5,000 employees that live and work in Massachusetts.
With over 136,000 employees, GE is one of the largest job creators in the country. In 2014 the entire GE family contributed $200 million and volunteered 1 million hours to community and educational programs. We also work with and generate business for over 1,000 suppliers in Massachusetts. Last year we paid millions in taxes in Massachusetts, $1 billion in U.S. state, local and federal tax, and $3 billion in income taxes — including in the U.S. GE pays taxes. It is simply inaccurate to claim that we do not.
In Massachusetts, we remain committed to a solution for the Housatonic that is fully protective of human health and the environment and avoids unnecessary destruction of the surrounding ecosystem. We have already spent $500 million cleaning the river and have repeatedly stated that we will undertake the right dredging project. We are working with EPA to do just that.
GE's recent job actions in Massachusetts will increase employment, not decrease it. In addition to the 800 jobs coming to Boston with our new headquarters, GE Healthcare announced last year that it would create 220 new jobs and invest $21M in its Life Sciences headquarters in Marlborough. Restructuring in Lynn is due to the end of the design cycle for a number of major projects, not a declining business.
We moved our headquarters to Boston because it is a growing technology hub. GE is leading the digital transformation of industry. Relocating to Boston gives us the opportunity to be more technology-focused, surrounded by universities, investors and a strong business community. Like GE, Boston is focused on innovation and together we will work to create long-term economic vitality for the Commonwealth. Massachusetts is investing in its own infrastructure for the future.
We want to be a part of a constructive dialogue about GE's role in our communities, but it is important that our neighbors have an accurate view of our values and our record.
Deirdre Latour, Fairfield, Ct. The writer is VP, chief communications officer, GE.
“Executive ignores GE's sordid Pittsfield history”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 2/11/2016
To the editor:
I read with interest the Feb. 2 letter from Deirdre Latour, vice president and chief communications officer of GE ("GE in Massachusetts is good corporate citizen"). Instantly, two thoughts came to mind: "Climbing the corporate ladder," and "sugarcoating."
My grandfather graduated from GE's first apprentice program in toolmaking in 1907. He told me that after church on summer Sundays he and his family took a trolley to Silver Lake to enjoy a picnic and swim from a beach employees made or fish from a rowboat. GE then filled in a big portion of the lake and it became polluted with more than PCBs. It did not freeze in winter. Of all things, it caught fire and posed a threat to the neighborhood. This made national headlines.
I also recall people catching bait fish in Silver Lake. GE was required to fence off the lake out of fear of contamination.
None of this was brought out by the vice president. Neither was the pollution of the Housatonic River, which was so pristine that anglers from everywhere, including President Herbert Hoover, came to fish in it.
It was once said that the hypothetical neutron bomb struck GE. It eliminated the people (workers) and left the polluted buildings standing. Then GE gave Pittsfield a million dollars for 10 years in lieu of taxes. We were to be thankful.
GE's role in communities, values and the rest sounds so nice. Hogwash!
Ed Stevens, Pittsfield
General Electric Co., which last month said it will move its headquarters to Boston, objects to a new federal plan that would force it to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to clean the Housatonic River, which the company polluted for nearly 50 years.
Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe/FILE 2010
"GE, EPA in dispute over federal plan to clean Housatonic River"
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, February 16, 2016
Continuing a decades-old dispute, General Electric Co. is sharply objecting to a new federal plan that would force it to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to remove massive amounts of toxic chemicals from the Housatonic River, which the company polluted for nearly 50 years.
The industrial giant, which last month said it will move its headquarters from Fairfield, Conn., to Boston, contends it should be allowed to dispose of dredged pollutants in landfills near the river in the Berkshires, despite state regulations that require the toxic sludge to be taken out of Massachusetts.
In a letter sent to the US Environmental Protection Agency last month, company officials argued it should be exempt from state hazardous waste regulations and other environmental rules.
In October, the agency released a plan that would require GE to spend an estimated $613 million to remove large amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls, toxic chemicals known as PCBs, that a company plant in Pittsfield dumped into the river from the 1930s to the 1970s. PCBs, banned by the federal government in 1979, were once ubiquitous as coolants and insulating fluids.
But GE officials label the government’s “rest of the river” cleanup plan “arbitrary and capricious” and say it violates the terms of a 2000 settlement among the EPA, the company, and state and local officials.
“The inevitable negative impacts … are dismissed and cost considerations are ignored,” wrote Ann Klee, GE’s vice president of global operations, in the letter.
Company officials say they have already spent more than $500 million since the 1990s to clean two miles of the river closest to the plant and on related environmental projects in the area. But the company acknowledges that contaminated soil still stretches along more than 10 miles of the river, its banks, and its floodplains between Pittsfield and Lenox. The Housatonic runs nearly 150 miles from Western Massachusetts through Connecticut to the Long Island Sound.
Environmental advocates argue that the agency’s plan does not go far enough to reduce the pollution, noting that a significant amount of PCBs would remain in the river.
“We think this is one of the EPA’s weakest cleanups that has ever been put out,” said Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, an advocacy group in the Berkshires. “It’s very frustrating.”
He denounced GE’s opposition to the plan as “an outrage” and said he was worried that the company’s move to Boston would increase its political power on Beacon Hill.
“Their influence all along has been to weaken the cleanup – every step along the way,” Gray said. “Their press releases say that they want to do what’s best for the river, but then they put out videos saying that cleaning the river will destroy it.”
Klee said the company opposes the agency’s insistence that it move more than 1 million cubic yards of polluted sediment,through thousands of truck or rail trips, to a federally licensed disposal site outside Massachusetts. GE estimates shipping the sediment out of state could cost the company more than $250 million.
The company argues it shouldn’t have to remove the dredged soil from the state, because it wasn’t required to do that in the first phase of the cleanup, which was completed in 2006. The proposed out of state location hasn’t been designated yet.
“Out-of-state disposal will be no more protective of human health or the environment than on-site disposal in a secure, state-of-the-art facility, but it will cost about a quarter of a billion dollars more,” Klee wrote.
The company also dismissed the need to comply with state regulations that limit where solid waste facilities can be built, such as those that would store the dredged sediment from the river.
“These regulations should be waived in their entirety,” company officials wrote in their formal objection to the agency’s plan.
GE also opposes the agency’s plan for it to dredge some 340,000 cubic yards of sediment from a portion of the river known as Woods Pond, where the highest concentrations of carcinogenic chemicals remain. The company says it should have to remove only about 13 percent of the sludge.
“EPA’s Woods Pond requirement alone will add an estimated $130 million to the cost of the remedy, for no environmental benefit,” Klee wrote.
EPA officials defended their plan, which they say would reduce PCB levels in the river’s fish by 95 percent over the next 13 years.
“We find those to be acceptable levels,” said Jim Murphy, an EPA spokesman based in Massachusetts. “We’re getting out of the river what we need to get out to protect human health and the ecosystem.”
Murphy acknowledged the criticism from both sides and said the agency was mindful of costs in designing its plan. Environmental advocates lobbied for a cleanup that would have cost more than $1 billion, he said, while reducing the toxic chemicals in the river’s fish by only slightly more.
The agency considers the dredging of Woods Pond and removing the toxic chemicals from the state to be necessary expenses,Murphy said. He noted that some of the state regulations requiring the removal of the dredged sediment from Massachusetts were passed after the completion of the first phase of the cleanup.
“We’re trying to reduce the total volume of the waste and the potential impacts downstream,” Murphy said. “We also need to comply with federal and state requirements, which don’t allow for in-state disposal.”
But GE called the agency’s plan “unlawful” and said it was starting an internal appeals processknown as “formal dispute resolution.”
If the agency and the company fail to find common ground, GE could contest the plan in federal court, further delaying the cleanup.
“GE remains committed to a common-sense solution … that is fully protective of human health and the environment,” Klee wrote.
But the agency’s plan, she added, “is not such a common-sense solution.”
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.
Woods Pond in Lenox is among the "hot spots" in the Housatonic River under the EPA's proposed PCB cleanup. (Eagle File)
“Community forums set on proposed Housatonic River cleanup”
By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, 2/18/2016
LENOX - Two community forums are set to explore several key issues in the legal tangle between GE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the planned cleanup of PCBs from the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield.
The first, organized by Tim Gray of the Housatonic River Initiative, is at the Lenox Town Hall at 7 p.m. Friday. It will include leaders of several other environmental groups that have studied the EPA's "intended final decision" detailing the scope of the work to be performed by GE.
GE is sharply contesting the government's "Rest of River" plan for a $619 million,13-year dredging, excavation and restoration of "hot spots" along the river from Fred Garner Park in southeast Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox and points south.
One of the flash points involves the location of a disposal site for contaminated sediment and soil to be removed from the riverbed and its banks.
The EPA is seeking shipment of the PCBs by truck and possibly rail to a licensed out-of-state facility. GE is demanding a much less costly alternative, which it contends is safe, by using an unspecified nearby landfill to bury and cap the contaminants.
In addition, the EPA Housatonic River Citizens Coordinating Council, which monitors river cleanup activities, will present an update on the Rest of River plan at the Lenox Library from 5:30 to 7:45 p.m. Feb. 24.
The CCC's agenda includes an EPA report on the dispute resolution process and "location of GE's proposed upland disposal facilities."
Gray described the question of "whether a dump is still on the table for Berkshire County" as a No. 1 issue for exploration at his forum. In a phone interview, he emphasized the long-term commitment by the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Protection to avoid a local disposal site.
He said that HRI also seeks to clear up "confusion" over the percentage of PCBs to be removed from the 10.5 mile stretch of the river from Pittsfield to Lenox under the EPA's current plan. The agency has stated that after the cleanup is completed, 89 percent of the likely cancer-causing chemicals that have been flowing over the dam just south of Woods Pond would be removed.
But Gray maintains that "we really don't know how many PCBs they're going to be leaving in the river because so many were dumped and there's no tracking system."
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, flowed into the river from GE's electrical transformer plant in Pittsfield for decades until the U.S. government banned the chemical in 1977. Gray cited a 1993 state DEP report that there were 44,000 pounds of the contaminant in the river, but his organization, founded 25 years ago, believes the amount is far higher.
A key question, Gray said, is whether the river will fully "recover" under the EPA cleanup scenario.
Among the participants in the Friday evening forum are Dennis Regan, Berkshire director of the Housatonic Valley Association, as well as representatives from the Berkshire Environmental Action Team in Pittsfield and the Housatonic Environmental Action League (HEAL), based downstream in Cornwall Bridge, Conn.
Gray outlined additional topics up for discussion, including the fate of contaminated "sensitive areas" adjacent to the river such as vernal pools, and the extent of the PCB removal plan for Woods Pond, "one of the most highly contaminated areas," he said.
Late last month, GE detailed its strong objections to the EPA's Rest of River remedy. In a letter to EPA regional leaders in Boston, the company's vice president of global operations Ann Klee contended that the government plan is "not a common-sense solution."
Even as informal mediation continues, GE has invoked a legal strategy, "formal dispute resolution," as the next step in what's shaping up as a lengthy confrontation.
The company blasted the government's cleanup decision as "arbitrary and capricious," as well as a violation of the legally binding Consent Decree involving GE, EPA, the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, the city of Pittsfield and other stakeholders.
The document filed in 2000 in U.S. District Court in Springfield, governs specifics of all PCB removal projects for the entire 125-mile river from Pittsfield south through western Connecticut. GE accuses the EPA of breach-of-contract and of exceeding its authority by including cleanup requirements that the company claims are not part of the original decree.
According to GE, disposing of PCB-contaminated material in a nearby landfill, along with a less extensive Woods Pond excavation and capping project, would save about $380 million.
But the government favors out-of-state disposal of about 1 million cubic yards of soil and sediment removed from more than 400 acres along the 10.5 miles of the river, as well as a thorough cleaning followed by a deepening of Woods Pond.
By the end of this month, the EPA is expected to issue a formal response to GE's rejection of its plan. GE would then have two weeks to issue a counter-response. The next step would be a binding decision by senior officials at the EPA regional headquarters in Boston.
If the company rejects that ruling, the case would be taken to the government's Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C., and then, if there's no resolution, the dispute could wind up in the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551. email@example.com @BE_cfanto on Twitter.
If you go ...
What: Housatonic River Initiative Forum to explore issues raised by the EPA's "intended final decision" for a $619 million PCB removal project
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Lenox Town Hall, 6 Walker St.;
What: EPA Housatonic Citizens Coordinating Council meeting, including update from the EPA on the status of the Rest of River project, including the location of contaminant-disposal sites
When: 5:45 p.m. Feb. 24
Where: Lenox Library, 18 Main St.
Clarence Fanto | The Bottom Line: “Parties digging in for prolonged battle over Housatonic cleanup”
By Clarence Fanto, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 2/20/2016
LENOX - Don't expect any help from Gov. Charlie Baker as lawyers for the Environmental Protection Agency and GE squabble over how to resolve their potentially irreconcilable differences over removing toxic PCBs from the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield.
Baker has now made it clear that the dispute is a separate issue from the company's relocation of its global headquarters from Fairfield, Conn., to the South Boston waterfront.
Follow the money: GE wants to cut in half, and then some, the estimated $613 million cost (over 13 years) of the cleanup ordered by the EPA in its "intended final decision" for the Rest of River cleanup.
GE is valued at $294 billion on the New York Stock Exchange. Annual revenue was $117 billion in 2015, and it ranks eighth on the Fortune 500 list of top companies.
In order to lure GE to Massachusetts, the state and the city of Boston dangled incentives worth up to $145 million in tax relief and spending on new roads and parking facilities.
Based on what Baker stated, the deal includes a hands-off policy by his office as GE and the EPA try to bridge their chasm-like gap through "dispute resolution." Absent an agreement, the project to rid the river of most of the likely cancer-causing PCB pollution could go to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
GE fouled the Housatonic from its Pittsfield transformer plant for nearly a half century until 1977, when the EPA banned consumption of fish from contaminated sections of the river. That was two years before the government banned the use of PCBs.
'A SEPARATE ISSUE'
Appearing on WGBH Radio in Boston during the "Ask the Governor" segment this past week, Baker said:
"If GE wanted to come and locate in Massachusetts, we'd be perfectly happy to talk about that, but the larger question associated with their dispute and their engagement with the EPA around the cleanup of the Housatonic is a separate issue and should be dealt with separately." He added that he has "not talked much at all with GE about the river."
State Auditor Suzanne Bump offered her own view in a Boston Herald radio appearance.
"As someone who now makes their home in the Berkshires, in the village of Housatonic I'm well aware of the fact that the river has been so polluted by PCBs because of GE's presence some decades ago in Pittsfield. It's so polluted that you can't eat fish from the river, and there is a great deal of contention that has been going on for years as to how much more of the river they need to clean up."
Bump had this to way about GE's move to Boston: "I'm not ready to say that GE shouldn't be welcomed here, that there won't be some benefit, but I do think that we need to have some eyes open about the pros and cons."
It would be hopelessly naive for me to suggest that GE take the $140 million Boston-relocation incentives and apply them to partially offset the cost of the river project here.
Hopeless, because of these crucial differences between the company and Washington.
• GE wants contaminated soil and sediment disposed into a landfill near Woods Pond in Lenox instead of shipping it to a licensed out-of-state facility. The company claims it would save more than $250 million, but the local "solution" is a non-starter with the community, the EPA and certainly the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, which requires out-of-state disposal.
• Woods Pond is the most contaminated section of the river. The EPA proposes a thorough cleansing of PCBs. GE wants to save $130 million by removing only 13 percent of the toxins. According to company Vice President of Global Operations Ann Klee's harshly worded letter to the EPA, "out-of-state disposal will be no more protective of human health or the environment than on-site disposal in a secure, state-of-the-art facility."
Both points appear non-negotiable, as it's hard to imagine the EPA ever agreeing to GE's demand to override the state's regulations on hazardous-waste disposal.
"These regulations should be waived in their entirety," Klee wrote. She accused the federal agency of an "arbitrary, capricious, unlawful" river remedy.
The EPA also gets hit by some local environmental advocates, notably Tim Gray of the Housatonic River Initiative. He blasted the government's plan as one of the weakest waterway cleanups ever proposed, an "outrage" reflecting the company's position that a massive project would destroy the river in order to save it.
What some of these critics favor is a more drastic cleanup costing close to $1 billion and requiring 50 years (yes, half a century) to complete. EPA officials say their solution, the third most-aggressive out of nine plans considered, would reduce PCBs in fish to negligible levels after 13 years.
Next Thursday's quarterly meeting of the EPA's Housatonic Citizens Coordinating Committee meeting, to be held in the Lenox Library at 5:30 p.m., should be especially revealing.
With Woods Pond well-frozen, ice fisherfolk have set up their usual midwinter camps for "catch and release" sport fishing. But several I've spoken with have insisted they would eat the fish that they consider harmless.
Some people hope that the river restoration along the especially bucolic 10.5 mile stretch never happens as it would massively disrupt the riverbanks, shoreline, the waterway itself and nearby residential areas.
Their wish is unlikely to come true. But for many of us, whatever cleanup does occur won't start, and certainly won't finish, in our lifetimes.
Contact Clarence Fanto at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The EPA is proposing to cut by 89 percent the amount of PCB contamination in Woods Pond in Lenox; GE wants to save 130 million by limiting that to 13 percent. (Eagle file)
“EPA official: Legal challenge over Housatonic cleanup could take three years”
By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, 2/25/2016
LENOX — The intensifying wrangle between GE and the EPA on the scope and cost of a proposed Housatonic River cleanup south of Pittsfield would require at least two or three more years to resolve if it winds up in federal court.
That was the message from Dean Tagliaferro, local project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency, during Wednesday's quarterly public meeting of the Citizens Coordinating Council.
GE and the EPA are in the midst of a lengthy legal battle known as "formal dispute resolution" as they attempt to narrow wide differences on how much PCB must be removed from 10.5 miles of the Housatonic from Fred Garner Park in southeast Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox, the primary hot spot for contamination.
Other key issues include the extent and cost of the cleanup at Woods Pond, the company's long-term obligations to monitor the recovery of the river, and a highly contentious obstacle: Where to dispose of more than one million cubic yards of contaminated soil and sediment expected to be dredged from the river and its banks.
GE has identified three potential PCB waste-disposal sites near the river, Tagliaferro said as he displayed aerial overview sites.
— A gravel pit just south of Woods Pond on land owned by Lane Construction Co. in Lee, adjacent to Lenox;
— A site off Forest Street in Lee, just south of the Massachusetts Turnpike, near the Prime Outlets shopping complex and Goose Pond.
— The Rising Pond area along Route 183 in the Great Barrington village of Housatonic.
The company holds an option on the Lane Construction site, making it a likely disposal site if the company succeeds in overturning EPA's demand, shared by Massachusetts, to ship the polluted material to a licensed out-of-state facility.
GE would run afoul of state Department of Environmental Protection regulations banning the storage of PCB contamination in Massachusetts. The company first listed the three potential Berkshire sites in 2010, Tagliaferro pointed out to the CCC members and the audience of about 50 attending the meeting at the Lenox Library.
DEP officials continue to emphasize outright opposition to a local disposal solution. In 2013, Kenneth L. Kimmell, then the agency commissioner, told The Eagle that multiple state regulations "prohibit dumping contaminated materials in those areas. Nothing in these regulations would allow that to happen. There's no wiggle room."
"The record is clear on our position, and we continue to support the EPA's remedy," said Eva Tor, deputy director of MassDEP's western regional office in Springfield, at Wednesday's meeting.
But GE, in a 62-page document released a month ago, rejected the EPA's final $613 million, 13-year Rest of River cleanup plan as "arbitrary, capricious and illegal" and acknowledged that it wants to save up to $250 million by storing the toxic material locally rather than shipping it out of state.
The company seeks an additional $130 million in savings by limiting the extent of PCB removal from Woods Pond to 13 percent of the toxic chemicals, rather than the EPA's plan to remove 89 percent.
The EPA's response to the company's strongly worded rejection of its "intended final decision" on the river cleanup is due Monday. GE continues the legal ping-pong with a follow-up reply to the EPA by March 15. The next step would be a definitive ruling by a top EPA official in Boston, followed by the EPA's release of a final permit for the cleanup.
"Then you go into what could be a never-ending duel, hopefully not," Tagliaferro said.
The EPA's final permit may be challenged by GE or others to the government's Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C., which could reject, modify or approve the government's cleanup plan.
The board decision, if still disputed, could then be taken to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Pittsfield attorney C. Jeffrey Cook, a CCC member, urged other participants to "accept that there are certain procedures and rules, complicated as all get out, but EPA has stuck with them. This is just going to go on forever."
"The people in this room are not going to be responsible for prolonging this to death," said Tim Gray, founder of the Housatonic River Initiative. "The entity that has been doing that for 25 or 30 years is called the General Electric Co."
He contended that GE has "staked out" all possible grounds for legal opposition to the EPA plan. "That is what will make it go on forever and ever, if GE cannot settle with EPA and vice-versa, obviously," Gray said. "I don't think anybody in this room will be against that. If it's a reasonable thing, we can make comments and say we don't like it, but if they decide it, everyone has to be abide by that. Nobody's living in a fantasy land."
Cook depicted litigation as "war, so when you go to war and put everything on the table, EPA is going to be well-represented and will do as well. I just look at that and say, 'Ye Gods, how long.' I'm not suggesting that anybody in this room is making it worse."
Tagliaferro said while a mediation effort " by John Bickerman of Bickerman Dispute Resolution in Washington remains in place for two more weeks, discussions have been "generally suspended." Bickerman is paid 50-50 by the EPA and GE.
"He thought we had an uphill battle to stop more toxic waste dumps in Berkshire County," said CCC member Valerie Anderson of the Housatonic Cleanup Coalition, who met with Bickerman recently.
Bickerman, who did not respond to a message from The Eagle on Thursday, believed the EPA's more extensive PCB cleanup remedy for Woods Pond would be "easier for us to win," Anderson added. "He thought that whether GE should be on the hook in perpetuity or for a long, long time is easier to win on, too."
The CCC advisory group includes 35 federal and state officials, business leaders, attorneys, area environmental advocates and other concerned individuals.
Gray called for a united effort to advocate "for the best possible cleanup we can achieve using innovative technology and different ways to make this a better site for cleanup, because the cleanup is coming."
He compared it to a "freight train that's started, it's moving, the EPA adds engines as time goes along, and the freight train will not be stopped. Everybody needs to remember this is our one chance in history to try to effect a better cleanup."
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551. email@example.com @BE_cfanto on Twitter
What's next . . .
Monday: The EPA responds to GE's Jan. 27 rejection of the agency's Rest of River PCB cleanup plan.
March 15: Deadline for GE's reply to EPA's response.
March 16: Deadline for concluding informal mediation discussions, unless either side chooses to end the talks sooner.
TBA: An EPA-designated senior official in Boston issues a binding decision.
TBA: If either side or other stakeholders who have commented dispute that decision, an appeal can be filed to the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board in Washington.
TBA: If either side, or other parties to the dispute, disagree with that board's ruling, the case could be taken to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
“EPA chides GE challenge of proposed Housatonic River cleanup”
By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, March 2, 2016
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has doubled down on its provisional final decision for the Housatonic River PCB cleanup south on Pittsfield, blasting GE for its wide-ranging rejection of the proposal.
The 132-page document posted on Wednesday sets the stage for a potential, prolonged legal confrontation over the scope and cost of removing most of the likely cancer-causing chemicals from hot spots, primarily along a 10.5 mile stretch between Fred Garner Park in southeast Pittsfield and Woods Pond in Lenox.
"EPA has afforded GE and the public an extraordinary degree of participation and input on the Rest of River cleanup decision," wrote Bryan Olson, EPA's director of site remediation and restoration, in a letter to the agency's regional counsel in Boston, Carl Dierker.
Citing the government agency's close scientific and technical scrutiny that led to the decision for a $613 million, 13-year dredging and excavation of toxic sediment and soil along the river, Olson took sharp exception to GE's efforts to cut $380 million from the bottom line.
The company proposed saving $250 million by depositing the waste into a landfill adjacent to the Lee-Lenox Dale line near Woods Pond or another potential site off Forest Street in Lee and at Rising Pond in the Great Barrington village of Housatonic instead of shipping it to a licensed out-of-state facility, as the EPA and the state of Massachusetts require.
GE also seeks an estimated $130 million savings through a far less extensive cleanup at Woods Pond that would remove 13 percent of the PCBs instead of 89 percent, as EPA's remedy would achieve.
Playing legal hardball against the company, Olson accused GE of challenging EPA's intended final decision "for one reason — to reduce its costs for cleaning up its PCBs."
He listed GE's "attempts to justify its challenge with three main claims:"
• "GE allegedly knows better than EPA how to select a remedy in the public interest;"
• "GE is allegedly entitled to virtually total certainty and finality in the cleanup, with uncertainties and additional costs all to be borne by the public;"
• "EPA allegedly misrepresented the [Consent] Decree in requiring restoration of natural resources."
The Consent Decree is the legal framework for the entire Housatonic cleanup approved by the U.S. District Court in Springfield in 2000.
In his letter, Olson declared that "none of these claims are justified and should be rejected. EPA's decision thoroughly considered GE's and others' viewpoints, and fairly balances all the relevant factors under the decree to produce a remedy that protects the overall public interest, not just GE's bottom line."
He also noted that "while GE objects that the remedy is too expensive, many others have commented that the remedy should go farther in removing contaminated PCB material even if it costs more to do so."
The most drastic approach considered but not adopted by the EPA would have cost the company about $1 billion and required 50 years to complete.
Olson depicted EPA's remedy as "somewhere in the middle that is implementable and provides GE with a level of certainty supported by the Consent Decree without subjecting the public to unnecessary risks or costs."
He also stated in no uncertain terms that "EPA — not GE — is in the best position to judge the appropriate level of analysis for selecting a remedy for the Rest of River that is in the public interest and protective of human health and the environment."
Olson declared: "Now is the time for GE to step up and honor its commitment to proceed with this important cleanup."
The executive summary of the government's position points out that "the remedy EPA selected includes a combination of excavation and capping of PCB-contaminated material, and disposal of the material at a suitable off-site landfill."
Noting that GE objects that off-site disposal is more expensive than on-site, the document states that the government considered and then rejected other alternatives for storing the contaminated material, including more expensive potential treatment technologies.
"GE failed to establish that any of its proposed on-site disposal locations, although cheaper, would be equally suitable compared to established off-site landfills," the EPA document states.
The government agency also dismissed GE claims that "the outpouring of public and governmental opposition to on-site disposal is irrelevant" to the EPA final decision.
"On-site disposal is opposed by many local residents and community advocacy groups, every Berkshire County city or town along the Housatonic, and at least seven state offices within Massachusetts," the document asserted.
The agency described the company's effort to construct a new PCB landfill in Lee or Great Barrington as "shifting the burden and risks of PCB contamination onto the Berkshires" in a drive to save the company money.
"EPA's experience at other cleanup sites supports the concern that coordinated opposition to on-site disposal at the Housatonic will unduly delay implementation and completion of the remedy," the agency added.
It also argued that the Consent Decree requires public comment to be considered, adding that "public participation would be meaningless if EPA could not consider public comments when selecting a remedy."
The EPA also notes that its final decision "may only be overturned if it is arbitrary, capricious or otherwise not in accordance with the law."
GE made those claims in its Jan. 19 rejection of the government's plan.
The company has a March 15 deadline for a final response to the EPA. Then, the "formal dispute resolution" case goes to Dierker, the EPA's regional counsel.
His final decision could be appealed by GE or other stakeholders to the EPA Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C. If there's no resolution, GE or "any interested person" can file for a review by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Olson's letter was copied to two GE executives, three other EPA officials as well as to the Massachusetts Attorney General's office, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the environmental agency in Connecticut.
Other recipients include Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and Pittsfield Economic Development Authority Executive Director Cory Thurston.
GE discharged PCBs into the Housatonic from its electrical transformer plant in Pittsfield from 1932 to 1977, when the government found the chemical to be a likely cause of cancer and then banned its use.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551. firstname.lastname@example.org @BE_cfanto on Twitter.
Here are some additional arguments by the Environmental Protection Agency in response to GE's rejection of its PCB cleanup plan for the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield:
• "GE seeks to permanently locate a PCB landfill along the river in an area with no known contamination where such location, by GE's own admission, would require waiving permanently numerous environmental laws and regulations designed to protect the environment and natural resources such as wetlands, floodplains and a state-designated Area of Critical Environmental Concern."
• "To save money, GE objects to the removal of over 285,000 cubic yards of PCB contaminated sediment from Woods Pond. Instead of removing the material and permanently eliminating the risk of transport" downstream in the event of a dam breach or failure, "GE seeks to shift the burden and risk onto the public through the shallower removal followed by capping."
• "Clearly, the United States would not agree to a settlement that included selection of a remedy for a complex 100-mile river system without requiring any natural resources that were damaged by the cleanup to be restored. Such a hypothetical agreement would cost GE less but violates EPA practice and the terms of the Consent Decree."
• "The proposed remedy is necessary to protect human health and the environment from PCB contamination released by GE's Pittsfield facility. Peer-reviewed risk assessments have concluded that PCBs and other contaminants of concern pose unacceptable risks to human health and the environment in Rest of River. The remedy employs a variety of mitigation tools to remove PCBs and reduce the exposure risks, including excavating contaminated soils and sediments and isolating contaminated materials under engineered caps. In some areas, construction of the proposed remedy will have unavoidable short-term impacts, but the design of the remedy limits those impacts, particularly in habitats of sensitive species. The remedy also requires GE to restore all disturbed areas. Due in part to this restoration requirement, the long-term benefits of the remedy far outweigh the short-term impacts."
Source: EPA website, To access the document: https://semspub.epa.gov/work/01/586286.pdf
“EPA responds sharply to GE’s opposition to its plan to clean up the Housatonic River”
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, March 3, 2016
In a sharply worded response to General Electric Co., the US Environmental Protection Agency this week asserted that the industrial giant should consider the public’s interest in cleaning up the Housatonic River rather than focusing on its costs.
Last fall the agency issued a preliminary plan that would require GE to spend an estimated $613 million to remove massive amounts of toxic chemicals from the river, which the company acknowledges it polluted for nearly 50 years.
In response, company officials last month called the agency’s cleanup plan “arbitrary” and “unlawful” and said it violates the terms of a 2000 settlement reached by the EPA, the company, and state and local officials.
On Monday EPA officials formally responded to the company’s opposition, arguing that the agency’s proposal was “best suited” to clean up about 10 miles of the river between Pittsfield and Lenox. Between the 1930s and the 1970s, a GE plant in Pittsfield dumped massive amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls, toxic chemicals known as PCBs, into the river.
Bryan Olson, director of the EPA’s office of site remediation and restoration, said the company is opposing the plan “for one reason: to reduce its costs in cleaning up the PCBs.”
He said the company tried to challenge the EPA’s plan by arguing that it “allegedly knows better than EPA how to select a remedy in the public interest” and is “entitled to virtually total certainty and finality in the cleanup, with uncertainties and additional costs all to be borne by the public.”
“None of these claims are justified and should be rejected,” Olson wrote.
GE officials said they are reviewing the EPA’s response.
“GE remains committed to a common sense solution for the Housatonic rest of river that is fully protective of human health and the environment, does not result in unnecessary destruction of the surrounding habitat, and is cost effective,” said David Lurie, a spokesman for GE. “EPA’s proposed rest of river remedy fails to achieve these goals.”
Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, an advocacy group in the Berkshires, said he appreciated that the EPA was “holding GE’s feet to the fire.”
“Now, if only EPA will go back to demanding GE remove 3 million cubic yards of PCBs from the river instead of just 1 million cubic yards, and stop GE from creating more PCB dumps in our neighborhoods, maybe we will have made some real progress,” he said.
David Abel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.
"Foot-dragging by GE will stall river cleanup"
The Berkshire Eagle, Opinion: Editorial, 3/3/2016
Astronauts may be walking around on Mars before a shovel-full of contaminated dirt is taken from the Housatonic River. General Electric is likely to stall a fair cleanup proposal for as long as possible.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday chastised the corporation in point-by-point fashion for its January rejection of a reasonable EPA proposal to clean up the PCB-polluted river south of Pittsfield (Eagle, March 3). The proposed $613 million restoration project would take until 2029 to complete if it started tomorrow, and it will not start tomorrow or any time in the foreseeable future.
The 132-page document posted by Bryan Olson, EPA's director site remediation and restoration, is notable for its frustrated tone. The EPA took issue with GE's assertion that the EPA has misrepresented the original Consent Degree, a late 20th century document that led to the cleanup of the river through urban Pittsfield. The circumstances pertaining to the remainder of the river are utterly different, and that GE was able to dump contaminated fill into a Pittsfield landfill does not mean it should be able to in southern Berkshire communities along the river.
Mr. Olson got to the essence of GE's opposition to the plan by asserting that the company wants to chop $380 million from its $613 million cleanup bill. A Berkshire landfill or landfills would save it an estimated $250 million. GE is one of the world's most profitable businesses, in part because of the skill of its tax specialists in enabling the corporation to dramatically reduce if not eliminate its federal tax bill. There is no justifying GE's attempt to preserve a portion of its profit margin by watering down the cleanup.
Similarly, GE's insistence on cost certainty is, as the EPA document said, indefensible. GE polluted the river, no one else. If the cleanup costs are higher than projected, it should make up the difference, no one else. GE has no grounds to play the victim.
With GE moving its corporate headquarters to Boston and getting tax breaks in the process, it should act like a good corporate citizen of Massachusetts. That means going forward on a river cleanup plan which, given the concerns of Berkshire environmentalists that it is too soft on the corporation, has probably succeeded in finding a fair middle ground. Unfortunately, there is no reason for optimism that GE will do the right thing by its former Berkshire home.
"PCBs also pose threat to future of polar bears"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 3/23/2016
To the editor:
I'm glad to see in the letters section of the editorial page that second graders at Stearns Elementary School are concerned about the plight of polar bears. There's another threat to their survival that they should know about.
PCB pollution from GE's Pittsfield plant, and many other locations, accumulates and concentrates in the bodies of animals all the way up the food chain, so top-level predators such as polar bears are being poisoned by the seals and fish that they eat. The PCBs disrupt their reproductive systems to the point that they can't produce healthy offspring, so their numbers inevitably decline.
So I hope the kids at Stearns will tell GE executives and local "leaders" who oppose a thorough and comprehensive cleanup of the Housatonic that leaving PCBs in the river and the floodplain will only result in further decline of the magnificent animals they're studying.
Maybe GE and its local enablers will listen to the kids, who might never get to see a real polar bear. I hope it's not too late.
Andy Gordon, Lenox
"GE Left Behind A Complex Legacy In Pittsfield"
By Meghna Chakrabarti and Jamie Bologna, WBUR Radio Boston, June 29, 2016
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — General Electric's decision to relocate its corporate headquarters to Boston was greeted with intense fanfare. As GE and Boston look to the future, there remain important lessons from the past.
GE had a major presence in western Massachusetts for more than 80 years. So what can Boston learn from Pittsfield's experience? And what do the people of Pittsfield think about the impact GE had on their lives?
Answer: It's complicated. And definitely not as black and white as casual observers in the eastern part of the state might think.
'GE Was Really The Main Thing'
For the better part of a century, from 1907 to 1987, the Pittsfield transformer plant was one of the crown jewels of GE's electrical infrastructure, high voltage testing and defense contracting businesses. In fact, the company often featured the city in corporate promotional videos, such as this one from 1967.
But the reliability GE touted in the above video came at a cost. For decades, GE used PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) to make its transformers. The U.S. government declared PCBs a probable human carcinogen and banned them in 1979.
By then, however, the damage was done in Pittsfield. Land around the GE site and the Housatonic River was badly contaminated. That is the better-known part of GE's legacy in western Massachusetts.
The lesser-known aspect: the people who worked at the plant in its heyday, and the conflict between the surprisingly deep love they still have for the company, along with deep frustrations.
"General Electric was really the main thing," says Bob Cudmore, who reported and hosted mornings at WBEC radio in Pittsfield from 1968 until 1980. He was one of the few people who didn't work at the mammoth Pittsfield facility.
According to the company, at its height in the 1940s, some 13,000 people worked for GE in Pittsfield, out of a city of 50,000 people.
Cudmore remembers: "My wife, who was alive at the time, had told me once that she was at a social gathering, other women would come up to her and say, 'Well, what does your husband do at GE?' And she said, 'Well, he doesn't work at GE.' And she said they had a look in their face like, 'Well, you poor dear.' You know, you people might even be on relief or something like that."
GE's footprint in Pittsfield was huge in every way imaginable -- the number of people who worked for the company and the sheer size of the plant itself, a sprawling campus more than 300 acres in the heart of the city, along the banks of the Housatonic River.
"I don't know how many buildings they had, I'll guess they had 40, 50 buildings. Some of them are torn down, some of them are still here. It was a large plant," says Nicholas Boraski, the former head of the Pittsfield transformer and ordinance divisions. He's 89 now. He worked for GE for 38 years.
Boraski says that back in the day, GE was the kind of company that could make a career.
After all, he says, just look at who else got their start in Pittsfield: Jack Welch, GE's most famous CEO, who first joined the company as a chemical engineer in the plastics division.
"I worked for him, he was an avid golfer, I worked with him," Boraski says. "I was very fortunate, and I went further than I ever thought I'd go."
Just about everyone we talked to felt something similar. They were proud. Pittsfield was an old mill town that could've gone under at the end of the 19th century. But GE came in and helped revive it. Not only that, Pittsfield workers genuinely loved being part of a company that epitomized 20th-century American industrial ingenuity.
"Oh yes, absolutely," says Thomas Blalock, who started working at GE Pittsfield in 1966, where he was an engineer in the high voltage lab. "We really were at the top of the game of this research area."
"And you walk in the door, and you have the sight of the entire building, from one end to the other, a quarter of a mile away," he remembers. "And the overhead cranes, there's two cranes in that building, each one will lift 350 tons, and they were used together to lift the heaviest transformers. Somebody once said to me, 'You never get tired of being in this building and watching these mammoth things,' transformers flying through the air as it were -- all kinds of activity like that that was just fascinating."
How PCBs Came To Be Used — And Leaked
When in operation, those transformers needed to be cooled. GE's preferred coolant for its largest transformers was a high-quality mineral oil. But for smaller transformers, such as those used inside factories, schools or office buildings, starting in the 1930s GE began using a coolant called Pyranol.
In a 1951 GE video, the announcer explains: "Unless you're a chemist, the story of Pyranol may sound like something out of Buck Rogers. Broadly speaking, you take a molecule of dyphenol. Replace 5 hydrogen atoms with 5 chlorine atoms. Result? A transformer liquid with high dielectric strength that won't sludge or oxidize. But more than that, it won't burn."
Sounds like the perfect industrial chemical. But Pyranol has another name: the banned PCB.
But prior to the ban, GE was making thousands of these small transformers. Boraski, the former head of the transformer division, says Pyranol was ubiquitous and employees were in frequent contact with it.
"Including me," Boraski says. "I've worked in it up to here [elbows] changing links in transformers. I've walked in it. It was just something we did."
And all those PCBs had to go somewhere. They went into the groundwater, and then straight into the Housatonic River.
"People were not intentionally throwing it away, but piping systems leak," engineer Blalock says. "This plant you know, employed over 10,000 people, it was a pretty big plant, and you can imagine the extensiveness of the piping systems in a plant like that. And you just can't keep track of every foot of pipe. And now we're talking from the '30s to the '70s, 40 years. Yeah, a lot of Pyranol leaked."
The company also dumped barrels and PCB-soaked bricks at various sites on GE land in Pittsfield. We don't know the total amount of Pyranol that made its way into the Housatonic. GE estimates that there could be up to 70,000 pounds of PCBs left in the river today; the EPA puts that number at 600,000 pounds. And that's after Phase 1 of an extensive cleanup in the heart of Pittsfield that followed a 1998 consent decree between GE, Pittsfield and the federal and state governments.
But back in the 1970s, there were more roundabout ways that people knew something wasn't quite right with the water.
Reporter Cudmore remembers an usual crime report near the Silver Lake, in the heart of Pittsfield.
"I was working one weekend," Cudmore recalls, "and the police pulled a car out ... that had gone in the lake at some point in the past, they didn't know when. And there was a dead body inside or somebody had been in the car. I didn't look at the corpse, but I asked the officers, and they said, 'Well, I think this man died many weeks, months ago, because the body's very badly deteriorated. But then they determined that the car and the man had gone into the lake only the week before, or something like that, and the chemicals had acted on his person in that way."
GE and the EPA finished the cleanup of Silver Lake in 2013. By 1979, PCBs were completely banned.
Boraski says GE, however, had seen the writing on the wall even before that.
"I'm an environmentalist too," Boraski says. "My personal feeling is that nothing should go in the river. The stuff got in the river because of ... well I would have to say carelessness, I guess. It wasn't deliberate, they didn't pour it in the river; it came from the plant, it drained into the river. One thing I could say about the use of Pyranol is I was the guy who ordered it to be stopped. All right? Because I didn't want the government yelling at me. Not because I thought it was dangerous."
It's easy to pass judgment at a distance. He's an environmentalist, but he doesn't think PCBs are dangerous? Nothing should go in the river, but he stopped GE's use of Pyranol just because he wanted the government off his back?
In Boraski's words are the complicated, conflicted feelings GE's longtime Pittsfield employees have about the company. No one we talked to loved the fact that the company contaminated the Housatonic with vast amounts of PCBs. But as Boraski insisted, it wasn't deliberate. That really matters to him. Because to this day, Boraski also says GE was the best company he ever worked for.
"Ruth, my wife, and I when I retired we continued our work in charities, and did a lot of good in that area," he says. "Set up a lot of funds for kids, and scholarships and funds both for various schools and organizations. So GE was the source of my being able to do that. So it was a good company, I thought it was an excellent company."
"GE did a lot in Pittsfield," Cudmore says. "No. 1, it did pay its workers well. And also was much involved in community activities, some go so far as calling it welfare capitalism. I mean GE in Pittsfield was the first place organizations, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the antipoverty agencies, who needed money for quote-unquote good works, they'd be the people you'd approach, because they'd be the ones who would be most likely to support you."
But of course, the flip side to that is a community that becomes reliant on that seemingly endless corporate support.
"Everybody referred to GE as THE GE," Cudmore says. "It was like you were talking about THE GOVERNMENT. It was seen as something that was immutable, or that it wouldn't change. But of course we found out it could change, and in fact it did change."
GE left Pittsfield. And it took those thousands of jobs, and all that corporate largess, with it.
"It was pretty much a shocker," Blalock says. He was still at the high voltage lab when in 1986, GE announced it would close the transformer division. "I remember being told at the time the plant decided to close down that we actually were in the black, but we were not far enough in the black to be producing enough return on the investment in the plant. That, plus, as I recall, at the time the CEO of General Electric was Jack Welch, he was guiding the company into directions other than heavy manufacturing, which turned out good and bad. Turned out good because he drove the value of the company up during that era, but now there is some feeling that maybe all of that went just a little bit too far."
Boraski is more direct. He has one word to describe the effect GE's departure had on Pittsfield: disastrous.
A slow motion disaster. The transformers division completely shut down in 1987. But by the early '80s GE Pittsfield employed only 7,000 workers — a little more than half of what it had been in the 1940s, according to a 1984 Boston Globe article. Today GE employs less than that. So as the numbers continued to shrink, so did the tax base and the corporate philanthropy that was so essential to the city.
"You go to some of the union members," Cudmore says, "and their offspring to this day, you know, are mad at GE."
Ultimately, GE moved on. It's coming to Boston, seeking to remake itself into an industrial and tech company for the digital age. But no matter what kind of company it becomes or where it goes, GE leaves behind a complex legacy in western Massachusetts that the people of Pittsfield have to live with.
"After GE pulled out," Cudmore says, "the people didn't blame GE so much for that, but they did start blaming GE for the pollution. For the problems that they left behind. It was all well and good that this company was here, and provided steady employment for many decades but now look at this big mess."
Being a Pittsfield native, it's an unfortunate example of a city being over-reliant on one employer. While the story may be about the environmental impact GE has left behind, it has also led to a city who has struggled to find an identity since their departure. A proud, middle-class, blue collar city who no longer has the job opportunities once afforded to it with a state government who has seemingly turned a blind eye. The population in Pittsfield is proud and is trying to rebuild itself, but the damage that GE caused, both environmentally and economically, may take as long to disappear as it did to create.
General Electric had a large plant in Pittsfield that polluted the Housatonic River, seen here, with PCBs. (Joe Difazio/ WBUR)
The former General Electric plant in Pittsfield (Joe Difazio/WBUR)
Nicholas Boraski, 89, is the former head of the Pittsfield transformer and ordinance divisions. He worked for GE for 38 years. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)
The Unkamet Brook, an area contaminated by General Electric's former Pittsfield plant is currently being rehabbed. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)
EPA project manager Dean Tagliaferro. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)
Penn State geology and ecology professor Robert Brooks with beaver byproduct. He believes the EPA’s plan to dig up the river will be detrimental to the existing ecosystems. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)
Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)
Woods Pond in Lenox, Massachusetts. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)
General Electric is tussling with the EPA over how to clean the Housatonic River in western Massachusetts. One of the concerns of the the cleanup project is how the surrounding ecosystems of the river will be affected. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)
“Cleaning Up The Housatonic: GE's Legacy In Pittsfield”
By Jamie Bologna and Meghna Chakrabarti, WBUR Radio Boston, June 30, 2016
GE operated massive transformer manufacturing plants in Pittsfield for more than 80 years. We heard from former plant employees, and the surprising combination of deep love and frustration they feel for the company. Now, we're exploring how GE's legacy carries forward in the region. Specifically, how Western Massachusetts is dealing with the major chemical contamination GE operations left in the waterways.
The Feelings Are Strong
"GE made billions in the transformer business," said Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative. "We're saying, you know, you owe it to us, instead of packing the station wagon, which they've done, it's kinda like, you owe it to us to come back to Berkshire County, and clean this stuff up."
Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were banned by the government in 1979. But they were widely used in manufacturing for decades prior to that. As we discovered, this is probably the only fact about GE's legacy where there's universal agreement. On just about every other aspect of what to do with the contamination, there's a variety of deeply held opinions and disputes.
For example, GE estimates that there could be up to 70,000 pounds of PCBs left in the Housatonic River today. The EPA puts the number at some 600,000 pounds.
Back in 1998, GE and federal, multi-state and local governments reached a consent degree that laid the groundwork for clean up plans. A couple of years later, the EPA and GE rehabilitated a two mile stretch of the Housatonic in downtown Pittsfield.
Now, the focus is on the "rest of the river," as it's called -- a more than 10 mile stretch of the Housatonic. There's a great deal of disagreement on how to clean it.
Stuck In The Middle
We'll start with the group stuck in the middle: the Environmental Protection Agency.
"We've heard GE saying, you're taking too much out, you're going to hurt the river; other people saying you're not taking enough out, you're gonna hurt the river and all the critters," said Jim Murphy, the EPA's head of community involvement for the Housatonic. "We're someplace in the middle, we're hearing criticism from both sides, that's not a surprise."
We met with Murphy and Dean Tagliaferro at Unkamet Brook, which flows directly into the Housatonic. Tagliaferro has been the EPA's project manager for the Housatonic clean up for 15 years.
The Unkamet Brook cleanup is typical of these kinds of restorations: The water is diverted. Contaminated soil is dredged out. Clean soil is put back in. Pretty straightforward, in theory. That is what was done in central Pittsfield.
GE says it spent more than $500 million on that part of the project. But the company objects to the EPA's new plans for the rest of the Housatonic River.
"Our proposal is to have the waste, whatever comes out of the river and the floodplain — we're estimating it's close to a million cubic yards — to be shipped out of state," Murphy said.
And therein lies the problem for GE. It would take about 100,000 dump trucks to move all that contaminated sediment out of Massachusetts in compliance with state regulations. The EPA estimates it would cost $300 million just to do that, bringing the total cost of restoration to more than $600 million.
GE objects to the size and scope of the EPA's plan. In a January 2016 letter to the EPA, GE argued that it should be exempt from state hazardous waste regulations. It called the EPA's plan "arbitrary and capricious." In a March letter, GE wrote that "EPA also concedes that out-of-state disposal" of contaminated sediments has no other benefit than "placating local opponents."
The EPA still has to make a final decision. The dispute could ultimately end up in federal court.
However, back in April, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt told WBUR he's optimistic.
"Oh gosh, look — we're just completing maybe the largest dredging project in the history of mankind on the Hudson River," Immelt said. "So my suspicion is that we'll be to come up with a good solution with the state of Massachusetts. We're very knowledgeable about how this should be done."
Immelt's referring to the 50-year, $1 billion PCB decontamination of the Hudson River.
Back at the Unkamet Brook site, we asked the EPA's Murphy about what Immelt said — specifically that GE knows how PCB cleanups should be done.
"Well the Hudson and Housatonic are two very different rivers," Murphy said with a laugh. "They did the work on the Hudson according to the EPA plan, so that's all we're asking them to do again. We have a lot of experience too, and we think we're the experts.”
Part of this story is a battle between experts.
On The River
We left the Unkamet Brook site to meet with another expert at a part of the Housatonic River that could be dredged under the EPA's plan.
Robert Brooks is a professor of geography and ecology at Pennsylvania State University.
We walked through wetlands and along the banks of the Housatonic. Brooks pointed out migratory birds, threatened amphibians, evidence of beavers in the area. And he said all of this could be destroyed by the EPAs plan.
"It would be devastating," Brooks said. "And this whole section is proposed to have one to two feet of the river bottom completely removed. That means they have to basically turn it into a construction site, put up a waterproof wall, work on one side, do the work there, then go to the other side. So imagine that kind of construction going on here. So every place that you see right here will be gone."
But could the Housatonic recover from the cleanup? In 25, 50, 100 years from now, could the river return to its current state of wilderness? Because that's part of the calculus here — short term disruption in exchange for a river that's clean and healthy in the long run.
"Our own experience — with rivers that have been restored and monitoring those -- is that they don't come back to this kind of condition," Brooks said, shaking his head.
And that's why he's opposed to the EPA plan of a wholesale cleanup of the Housatonic. In fact, Brooks advised GE on an alternate plan — targeted, surgical cleanups where PCB contamination is highest.
"When I see EPA's remediation plan, it's like a giant sledgehammer that's going to pound the system, and it's going to pound it for a long, long time — and that, that hurts," he said.
Brooks has been coming to the Housatonic for 40 years. He's done extensive research on the river, but we should note that some of that research was funded by GE. In fact, in the process of reporting this story, we asked GE several times if we could speak with a member of its corporate leadership team. They instead connected us with Professor Brooks, and brought him up from Pennsylvania to meet us. A GE public relations manager accompanied Brooks as we talked.
"I'm an expert, like an expert witness, or expert to give an independent assessment and even back to the original kingfisher studies we did in the early 2000s, I'm here to give my scientific opinion, and they in no way influence that," Brooks told us. "I think it's a very small risk to give up what you have, and the pleasure of having this in your backyard, it's a real treasure for the community of Pittsfield and surrounding places, and I wouldn't want to let it got. I'd fight hard to save it."
That's exactly what many people who live along the river say they're doing. They're fighting for the Housatonic. But they've got very different views on what saving it actually means.
"Yeah, don't destroy the river to clean it. It's all these people who have gotten brought in by GE to say that same bottom line, is leave the river alone," Gray, the Housatonic River Initiative head, said.
He's on one end of the spectrum. Gray wants the most comprehensive clean up possible. On the other end are residents like Jeffrey Cook.
"The EPA seems to think it can somehow be saved while they rip all this stuff up. But those of us who look at it every day and enjoy recreating in that area have no such confidence that they will do it," Cook said. Cook is a member of a group of business leaders that provided input for the original 1998 consent decree. He also lives along the same stretch of the Housatonic we visited.
"I'm not carrying a bucket for GE at all and wouldn't. There's a very, very legitimate position among the folks living in 'ground zero', is what I call it, and there's a lot more to what EPA passes off as the gospel, that people should be looking hard at before we spend $600 million or more dollars destroying the wetlands, the floodplains and the river in that area in the city of Pittsfield and the town of Lenox," he said.
Heading To Woods Pond
The Housatonic River flows through Pittsfield and into Lenox, draining into Woods Pond. That's where we made our final stop, and met Gray, of the Housatonic River Initiative.
"If you hop out in a canoe and go north, you'll feel like you're canoeing through Montana, because it's an absolutely wonderful place," Gray said, describing the beauty of Woods Pond. "Bald eagles fly through here, osprey, herons, you name it, are in this section of the river. And they're all eating fish, which are highly contaminated. And this pond here is one of the more contaminated ponds in the country."
EPA says concentrations of PCBs found in wildlife at Woods Pond is up to 100 times higher than what's considered a safe level. The pond acts like a catch basin for the PCBs, and more than half of the PCBs go over a dam and continue downstream 140 miles along the river.
GE's preferred solution is to dredge the pond and deposit the contaminated sediments in a nearby landfill. The EPA is pushing to truck the soil out of state.
Gray opposes GE's plan, but he also takes issue with the EPA. He wants them to dredge even more of the sediments upstream from Woods Pond. But like so many people we talked to for this series, he has been fighting this battle for decades. And with that long experience, comes a certain kind of perspective.
"Well it's better than doing nothing, OK, it is better than doing nothing. But we're still mystified why we have to leave all these PCBs in the river," Gray said. "You know, when we study the river 30 years from now, will we really be clean? We're very worried about that. And so we say to the EPA, have a little more guts and clean it up. But everything's a compromise with corporations."
That's the biggest takeaway from our exploration of GE's legacy in western Massachusetts. The people who must make the biggest compromises are those who have to live with that legacy. Also, there is a lot of disagreement on how to manage the after effects of GE's 80 years in Pittsfield. But folks do agree on at least two things: Something must be done and why that something matters.
"For me, it's about our grandkids," Gray said. "This thing is so contaminated, I'm going to be long gone before the results of the cleanup 50 years from now is going to really be seen. But the dream is my grandkids could come down and throw a pole in the river and not be afraid of getting a high dose of PCBs."
“Concerns grow as GE identifies three potential sites for PCB dumps”
By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, 7/14/2016
LENOX — Concern is growing over the possibility that GE could dump contaminated PCB material on three potential local sites from a potential massive dredging and excavation of the likely cancer-causing chemical along the Housatonic River from southeast Pittsfield into Lenox.
But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's final decision on the Rest of River cleanup of PCB-laden soil and sediment is still weeks, if not months, away.
Acknowledging that the ruling has taken longer than expected, EPA Community Relations official Jim Murphy told The Eagle that "we're saying it should come by the end of the summer."
The agency's "intended final decision" issued last Sept. 30 called for a $613 million, 13-year project requiring GE to excavate most of the PCBs heavily contaminating a 10.5-mile stretch of the Housatonic between Fred Garner Park in southeast Pittsfield and the worst "hot spot," Woods Pond in Lenox. There, the EPA has found PCB concentrations in wildlife are 100 times the limit considered safe.
But within a month, GE blasted the proposed remedy as "arbitrary, capricious" and "unlawful," aiming its harshest criticism at the EPA's insistence that under Massachusetts environmental regulations, the contaminated material must be shipped to a licensed out-of-state facility.
Instead, the company has targeted three sites near the river where the PCBs could be dumped — a landfill at Lane Construction on the Lee-Lenox line, an area off Forest Street in Lee, and the Rising Pond vicinity in the Great Barrington village of Housatonic.
GE insisted that its preferred sites would be safe while acknowledging that the company would save at least $250 million by avoiding a requirement to ship the material out of state. The company has predicted that 100,000 trips by dump trucks would be required.
The EPA plan would remove 89 percent of the PCB contamination flowing over the dam at Woods Pond; GE wants to save an additional $130 million by limiting that to 13 percent.
Concerned citizens have staged several rallies in Great Barrington protesting any storage of PCBs in South Berkshire.
If EPA Regional Counsel Carl Dierker's final decision — based on an examination of the agency's proposal, GE's response and other public comment — continues to require out-of-state shipment, a prolonged legal wrangle would be the next phase.
GE or any others who have filed public comments with the agency could take the dispute to the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C., whose four independent judges are the agency's final decision-maker on major controversies.
The company or others dissatisfied with that decision could then take the dispute to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
The EPA is caught in the middle between GE's fierce opposition to its proposed cleanup plan and an insistence by some environmental advocates, notably Tim Gray of the Housatonic River Initiative, that the government's remedy is inadequate and that a more extensive, expensive cleanup costing over $900 million over a 50-year period should have been recommended.
"We've heard GE saying, you're taking too much out, you're going to hurt the river; other people saying you're not taking enough out, you're gonna hurt the river and all the critters," the EPA's Murphy has pointed out. "We're someplace in the middle. We're hearing criticism from both sides, that's not a surprise."
The two sides don't even agree on how much PCB contamination remains in the river. GE says 70,000 pounds, the EPA puts it at 600,000 pounds.
In response to an Eagle query, the company issued a statement late Thursday: "GE will clean the Housatonic Rest of River. The only question is how it will be cleaned. We remain committed to a common sense solution for the Housatonic Rest of River that protects human health and the environment, does not result in unnecessary destruction of the surrounding habitat, and is cost-effective."
According to David Lurie, public relations manager for GE Corporate, "EPA has repeatedly approved and implemented on-site disposal in many other instances across the country and in Massachusetts, including in New Bedford where EPA was responsible for funding the disposal costs. As recently as December an EPA spokesman said that on-site disposal options for the Rest of River remedy are 'just as safe' as out-of-state disposal."
In his only recent public comment, GE's CEO Jeffrey Immelt defended his company in response to a question from public radio station WBUR's reporter during an April 4 celebration of the company's upcoming relocation of its headquarters to Boston.
He stated that the company has already spent $500 million on the Housatonic cleanup in Pittsfield over the past decade. GE, which employed about 13,000 people in the city during the 1940s, discharged PCBs into the Housatonic from its former electrical transformer plant in the city from 1932 to 1977, two years before the U.S. banned use of the chemical.
"You know, we have a certain perspective on how we think it should be done, and we plan to stand up for what we think is right," Immelt said. "We've done more dredging than any other company on earth, I'd have to say. It's our intention to work well with the governor and the EPA to do another successful project on the Housatonic."
In its documents, the EPA has detailed adverse health effects that "PCBs have been demonstrated to cause, including cancer. PCBs also cause serious non-cancer health effects in animals, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other organs."
The agency cited studies in humans providing "supportive evidence for potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects of PCBs."
In Lenox, which would suffer a major impact from an extensive excavation project, Select Board Chairman Warren Archey is urging consideration of "nanotechnology," an alternative approach to river restoration as suggested in an article by Nature Conservancy science writer Cara Byington.
Archey told board members that it's worth exploring "whether that process, bioremediation, can be used, rather than digging [PCBs] out of the river and throwing them somewhere else."
"I'm absolutely convinced that GE's plan to stick the stuff somewhere else just doesn't make it," Archey contended. "No matter where the 'somewhere else' is, that's the problem, especially locally, where it's a bigger problem."
"I hope we're all of the notion that we should neutralize these things rather than throw them somewhere else," he added. "It's a big, big issue, truly complex."
Selectman Kenneth Fowler agreed that it would be in the town's best interests to determine whether newly emerging technology could restore the river. "I'd like to see that exhausted before we go to dredging and everything that goes along with that," he said.
"The cleanup and remediation that follows it must emphasize minimizing adverse environmental impacts, and should leave the river free to flow within natural banks, not riprap channels," according to Lenox resident George Darey, board chairman of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. "Hopefully, town officials will be diligent in not allowing PCBs to be dumped in Berkshire County."
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551. firstname.lastname@example.org @BE_cfanto on Twitter.
EPA Rest of River Plan . . .
These are among the most significant recommendations the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency included in its intended final decision issued Sept. 30. The agency's regional counsel in Boston is preparing a final decision, expected by the end of this summer:
— Excavation and backfill of an estimated 990,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated material;
— Containment and capping of remaining PCBs;
— Monitored Natural Recovery where appropriate;
— Use of a sediment amendment, such as activated carbon, to reduce mobility of PCBs.
— Disposal of excavated material off-site at an existing licensed facility out of state.
More information: www.epa.gov/ge-housatonic.
Housatonic Rest of River Timeline . . .
2000: The U.S. District Court in Springfield issued a decree requiring specific actions for 25 PCB cleanups in Pittsfield and the Housatonic River. All but three have been completed, but for the Rest of River section of the Housatonic, more information gathering was needed before a cleanup could proceed. GE and EPA performed risk assessments, modeling and sampling, leading to an analysis of alternative cleanup approaches.
2011: EPA issues its proposed cleanup requirements for review by EPA's National Remedy Review Board, and accepted comments from GE and the public. The remedy called for excavation of 1,070,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated material, containment and monitoring, with off-site disposal. Based on the public and GE's comments, EPA then engaged in a series of technical discussions with representatives of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
May 2012: The two states issued a status report proposing a cleanup that included an estimated 990,000 cubic yards, slightly less than the 2011 EPA proposal.
2012-2013: At GE's request, EPA held discussions with the company until late in 2013, but did not reach any agreements with GE.
2014: EPA issues a draft cleanup proposal for a formal, four-month comment period. This permit also required the removal of about 990,000 cubic yards of material. EPA received 2,100 pages of public comments from over 140 commenters.
September 2015: EPA issued its "Intended Final Decision" leading to the current dispute resolution. Similarly, the decision required the removal of about 990,000 cubic yards of material. Within 30 days, GE faulted the findings as "arbitrary, capricious, unlawful."
September 2016 (tentative): EPA's final decision from its regional counsel in Boston is expected by the end of this summer.
Corydon L. Thurston, executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, said he believes officials soon will learn whether more state money will be allocated — and how much — to help bridge a funding gap. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)
"PEDA official, state rep urge groundbreaking for Berkshire Innovation Center"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 8/17/2016
PITTSFIELD - Pittsfield Economic Development Authority officials and the city's state representative urged Wednesday that a groundbreaking ceremony come earlier, rather than later, for the long-planned Berkshire Innovation Center.
An expected construction launch earlier this year for the center at the William Stanley Business Park was put on hold after bids for the work came in higher than expected last year and a funding gap estimated at $3 million emerged.
The state has pledged $9.7 million for the project, and PEDA and BIC board members and state reps have been lobbying for additional funding to close that gap.
PEDA Executive Director Corydon Thurston said during a morning meeting of the authority's board that, regardless of the funding available, "In my opinion, we absolutely have to get shovels in the ground and start [construction] soon. Hopefully, we will."
Thurston had briefed the board on prospects for additional state funding, saying that with the state budget totals now determined, "and all the state agency budgets set," he believes PEDA and the BIC board will hear soon whether new funding will be allocated and how much.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, who attended the session, echoed that sentiment.
Local officials and residents "are really anxious to see something started here," she said, adding that the companies and educational institutions that have joined the nonprofit BIC, or are considering joining, "want to see this beyond [architectural drawings]."
"I agree," Thurston said, and PEDA board members present Wednesday also seemed in agreement.
The officials said they believe that having construction under way, even if the entire center cannot be built out initially, would spur renewed interest and attract new company members and additional funding.
The BIC has been planned as a facility offering use of sophisticated equipment for the creation of product prototypes, along with training and programming related to advanced manufacturing. Local firms are expected to benefit through access to equipment that businesses their size could not afford to own and access to employee training and the exchange of ideas and information.
Among members are a dozen local manufacturers and a number of institutions, such as Williams College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and UMass-Lowell, and Berkshire Community College, along with Taconic High School and McCann Technical School in North Adams.
"I really am going to beat the drum on this," Farley-Bouvier said. "Let's get shovels in the ground."
Rod Jane, project manager for the BIC, could not be reached Wednesday for an update on progress toward securing additional funding.
However, he told city councilors during a briefing in June that officials hoped to hear soon whether new funds will be forthcoming for the BIC.
In 2014, $9.7 million in funding was approved by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center for the 20,000-square-foot manufacturing innovation center — including $2 million for equipment. That estimate of the full cost was based on conceptual plans, however. When a full construction design was prepared the following year, BIC officials said it became apparent the final cost would be higher.
When bids for the project were received in 2015, "they were much higher than anticipated, and there were fewer bidders than anticipated," Jane told councilors in June. He said that since then, BIC representatives have been discussing with state economic development officials the possibility of additional funding.
Plans for the center include space designated for small manufacturing firms for research and development, conferencing, biotech wet lab, accelerator and incubator testing and development activities, along with a PC lab and server room and training classrooms for workforce development and similar programs.
The BIC is a private-public partnership between the city and PEDA that is run by a nonprofit organization with a board of directors with representatives from industry, higher education and vocational education and research partners from around the region.
Operational funding would come from dues from member firms, donations, sponsorships and grants, and from renting use of the sophisticated testing and product evaluation equipment and other space to firms, providing workforce training and education and allowing collaboration among the firms and institutions.
Jane said in June that it would take about 16 months to rebid the project and complete the center. He said it would take an additional six months or more if a redesign is necessary.
Plans include space designated for small manufacturing firms for research and development, conferencing, biotech wet lab, accelerator and incubator testing and development activities, along with a PC lab and server room and training classrooms for workforce development and similar programs.
Also on Wednesday, the PEDA board discussed planned "open house" events at the William Stanley Park for the public and for company officials looking for industrial space. The events are scheduled on Aug. 24 and 31 and Sept. 14, said board member Christina Barrett in a marketing committee report.
She added that new signage for the park, an enhanced website, preparation of hand-out materials about the facility and walking tours also are planned.
Information on the open house events can be found at http://williamstanleybp.com/open-houses.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. email@example.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.
Our Opinion: "Hoping for best on BIC building"
The Berkshire Eagle, 8/18/2016
If you build it, they will fund, is the argument for beginning construction on the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC). It's a bold plan, but a risky one.
The project for the William Stanley Business Park in Pittsfield was put on hold after bids came in higher than anticipated and a $3 million funding gap emerged (Eagle, August 18). The state pledged $9.7 million for the project and the appropriate elected and appointed officials and BIC board members have been lobbying Beacon Hill for the additional funding. The belief is that if construction begins, renewed interest may attract new members for BIC and additional funds.
That may happen, as the BIC plan has attracted about a dozen local manufacturers as members, as well as the participation of public schools, colleges and universities within and just outside of the Berkshires. BIC promises sophisticated equipment, training and programming related to advanced manufacturing, as well as the opportunity for manufacturers, instructors and students to come together to explore new concepts.
But will Governor Baker and the legislative leadership be more willing to provide additional funding for BIC because ground has been broken? Beacon Hill had reason to believe that the initial funding provided was sufficient for the project. The state is also looking at a $629 million revenue shortfall for fiscal 2017 because tax collection projections fell short of reality.
Old school, General Electric-style manufacturing is gone from the Berkshires but there is a foundation of advanced manufacturing here to build upon. Tying the sound BIC concept to a new building precludes using a current building or a portion of a building to make BIC a reality. If funding doesn't emerge, the city could have its eggs stuck in a partially built basket.
“EPA upholds plan to remove PCBs from Housatonic River, rejects GE objections”
By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, 10/18/2016
The long-awaited final administrative decision from the Environmental Protection Agency on the Rest of River PCB cleanup along the Housatonic south of Pittsfield upholds the agency's plan to require GE to remove the toxic chemicals out of state.
And the ruling rejects GE's numerous objections to the plan, setting up the likelihood of another extended delay before the river cleanup can begin.
In a 10-page decision announced late Tuesday by the EPA's Boston office, regional counsel Carl Dierker turned aside GE's contention that the agency is "not allowed to consider state and local opposition to on-site disposal of the PCB waste."
GE has claimed that the federal court order governing the river cleanup makes no mention of local opposition for deciding where to dump the contaminants.
"In evaluating the positions advanced by GE and EPA, I find that EPA's approach regarding consideration of state and local stakeholder views to be entirely reasonable," Dierker wrote.
His ruling will be music to the ears of many local opponents to GE who have insisted that the chemicals be trucked out of state to a licensed disposal facility.
"EPA has come to the conclusion that the longstanding and vigorous opposition to a new PCB landfill effectively means that a certain path forward, i.e. on-site disposal, would be difficult or impossible to pursue and therefore would not be implementable," the final ruling asserted.
Dierker cited in support of his decision the "close intergovernmental partnerships EPA cultivates with state and local governments."
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has opposed creation of a local landfill in Lee or Great Barrington, as GE has urged, since state law prohibits dumping of PCBs within the state.
The chemicals, leached into the river from GE's Pittsfield electrical transformer plant from the 1930s until 1977, when the United States banned use of PCBs, are considered probable cancer-causing agents in humans, according to the EPA and international health agencies.
In a ruling likely to spark a GE appeal to the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, Dierker also cited "meaningful opportunities to participate legally afforded to the public in general, including local community members and other stakeholders."
He asserted that those rights are "integral to the overarching principle of 'cooperative federalism' that the agency employs in carrying out all its environmental programs, including its cleanup programs."
In his document, the EPA's regional counsel states that "it would be unreasonable for EPA to ignore the ability of state and local authorities to thwart the implementation of proposed cleanup plans in deciding how to proceed."
Dierker also asserted that it would be "highly unusual" for any EPA cleanup order to be selected and carried out in the face of strong state opposition.
He cited the Consent Decree for the river cleanup approved by the U.S. District Court in Springfield 15 years ago, writing that "to ignore such opposition would severely diminish and undermine public participation opportunities" required by the legal agreement.
The EPA's plan for a $613 million, 13-year cleanup of Housatonic River's worst PCB "hot spots," primarily along a 10.5-mile stretch from Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox "is reasonable, supported by adequate data and information, is permissible under the actual language of the Consent Decree and is well within the scope of the agency's discretionary authorities," the ruling stated.
Dierker's decision also attacks GE's position that the EPA's "intended final decision" on the cleanup would "improperly make GE carry out natural resource restoration activities."
He cited the U.S. Clean Water Act as requiring "substantive regulatory compliance" with standards and guidelines for restoring natural resources. Dierker called for a "clear analysis" showing how PCB dredging, excavation and removal of contaminants would not overlap with federal restoration requirements.
As for GE's argument that the EPA's off-site PCB removal requirements are "arbitrary, capricious and unlawful," the ruling issued Tuesday takes issue with the company's position because it fails to present sufficient information to dispute the factual basis of the federal agency's plan.
Dierker also found that EPA's use of the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act to protect and ensure human health and the environment "appears reasonable and appropriate."
He supported the agency's requirement that GE take reasonable steps to avoid additional releases of PCBs in the future in case a downstream dam owned by another party fails because that would "undermine the integrity of the cleanup already undertaken by GE."
The ruling describes the company's other challenges to the EPA's proposed cleanup decision as "reflecting an honest disagreement" with the agency's approach.
Dierker knocked down the company's argument that the EPA plan "goes beyond what is necessary to protect human health" and he upheld the agency's authority to require additional work by GE to avoid the migration of PCBs along the Housatonic into Connecticut.
"It is EPA that has been vested with responsibility under federal law to determine what is needed to ensure protectiveness of human health and the environment and it has been given broad discretion in developing options and making decisions in this regard," he wrote.
While the EPA does not have "unbridled discretion" under federal law, Dierker pointed out, "it does get deference when making complex decisions involving numerous statutory and regulatory factors."
"I believe EPA has been and continues to be conscientious and balanced in applying its legal authorities, in considering its policies and guidance, and in developing a rational approach for protecting human health and the environment," the ruling asserted.
"Given the scope and variability associated with a site of this size and complexity, EPA's development of a cleanup approach overall is entirely reasonable and is supported by the data and information in the administrative record," he stated.
"While I can appreciate GE's disagreement with EPA's exercise of its discretion in making complex, scientific, technical and engineering decisions and with the way it has weighed and balanced other important factors, I find that overall EPA's reasoning, rationale and analysis are sound and adequately supported by the data and information it has fully considered," Dierker concluded.
EPA's next step is to issue its formal cleanup requirements to GE in the form of a permit to perform the river cleanup, said agency spokesman Jim Murphy.
Asked whether he expected GE to file additional legal appeals, he responded: "Your guess is as good as mine."
If the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board in Washington upholds the final ruling, GE could sue at the U.S. First District Court of Appeals in Boston.
The federal agency's "intended final decision," issued Sept. 30, 2015, required GE to excavate most of the PCBs heavily contaminating the 10.5-mile stretch of the Housatonic between southeast Pittsfield and Woods Pond in Lenox. There, the EPA has found PCB concentrations in wildlife are 100 times the limit considered safe.
In its attack on the proposed remedy, GE reserved its harshest criticism for the EPA's insistence that under Massachusetts environmental regulations, the contaminated PCB material must be shipped to a licensed out-of state facility.
Instead, the company targeted three sites near the river where the PCBs could be dumped — a landfill at Lane Construction on the Lee-Lenox line, an area off Forest Street in Lee, and the Rising Pond vicinity in the Great Barrington village of Housatonic.
The GE proposal triggered a series of intense citizen protests in Housatonic and strong concern at Town Hall in Lenox.
The company claimed that its preferred sites would be safe while acknowledging it would save at least $250 million by avoiding a requirement to ship the material out of state. The company has predicted that 100,000 trips by dump trucks would be required.
The EPA plan would remove 89 percent of the PCB contamination flowing over the dam at Woods Pond; GE wanted to save an additional $130 million by limiting that to 13 percent.
The two sides don't even agree on how much PCB contamination remains in the river. GE says 70,000 pounds, the EPA puts it at 600,000 pounds.
No immediate reaction to the latest EPA ruling was available after-hours from GE corporate headquarters.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551. firstname.lastname@example.org @BE_cfanto on Twitter.
The Environmental Protection Agency has upheld its plan for a $613 million, 13-year cleanup of Housatonic River's worst PCB "hot spots" on a stretch from Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox, above. (Eagle file)
“GE promises to appeal latest EPA decision”
Company has 30 days to file with panel in D.C.
By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, 10/19/2016
A day after a hearing officer upheld the EPA's plan to clean up the Housatonic River, General Electric on Wednesday signaled it was digging in for a fight.
The company issued a statement in response to the Environmental Protection Agency's Intended Final Decision, which was announced late Tuesday. That decision rejected challenges GE made to the agency's initial plan for the "Rest of River" portion of the cleanup.
"We remain committed to a common sense solution for the Housatonic Rest of River that protects human health and the environment, does not result in unnecessary destruction of the surrounding habitat, and is cost-effective," a GE spokesman stated. "EPA's Intended Final Decision doesn't meet this standard. We're disappointed by EPA's regional counsel response to GE's arguments, which were made in a thorough and thoughtful analysis."
The company signaled a prolonged legal challenge before any cleanup can begin.
"We look forward to resolving the shortcomings of EPA's Intended Final Decision over the coming months and, if necessary, through the appeals process provided by the Consent Decree so we can begin to clean the Housatonic Rest of River," the statement read.
The Consent Decree is a legal agreement filed at U.S. District Court in Springfield 15 years ago listing the requirements for PCB removal from the Housatonic, including a stretch in Pittsfield that was completed 10 years ago, and the Rest of River segment south of the city.
"GE will clean the Housatonic Rest of River," the statement read. "The only question is how it will be cleaned."
The ruling by EPA Regional Counsel Carl Dierker in Boston upheld the EPA plan for a 13-year dredging, excavation and removal of PCB-contaminated soil and sediment from Housatonic River "hot spots" south of Pittsfield.
Under the plan, GE would be required to pay $613 million for the agency plan to restore a 10.5-mile stretch of the river from Fred Garner Park in southeast Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox, which would be dredged, and truck the toxic material to a licensed out-of-state disposal site.
"I believe EPA has been and continues to be conscientious and balanced in applying its legal authorities, in considering its policies and guidance, and in developing a rational approach for protecting human health and the environment," Dierker wrote.
The ruling calls the agency's cleanup plan "reasonable, supported by adequate data and information, permissible under the actual language of the Consent Decree and well within the scope of the agency's discretionary authorities."
A final permit detailing the requirements of the cleanup is expected to be released in several days, according to agency spokesman Jim Murphy.
In its challenge to the initial EPA plan, GE had proposed to dispose of the PCB-contaminated material in what it termed safe, cost-effective sites in the area, including Lane Construction on the Lee-Lenox line, a site off Forest Street in Lee and the Rising Pond area of Housatonic, a village within Great Barrington.
But the EPA decision rejected such a plan, citing state and local opposition to any "dumping" of the chemicals in Massachusetts, a violation of state environmental laws.
GE's likeliest recourse now is to file its objections to the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board, a three-judge panel in Washington. Others who have commented on the EPA's proposed cleanup also can enter an appeal. If no settlement emerges, the company or others could file suit at the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
The window for appeals is open for 30 days after the EPA issues its final cleanup permit, as expected in a few days.
Although the appeals board is part of the EPA, it maintains impartiality and independence from the agency and gives equal consideration to legal arguments by challengers and the positions of EPA lawyers. According to the board's website, "this independence allows the EAB to make fair decisions for or against any party to the appeal."
PCBs, listed as a probable cancer-causing agent in humans and animals by the EPA and international health agencies, flowed into the Housatonic from GE's electrical transformer plant in Pittsfield from the 1930s until 1977, when the United States banned use of the chemical.
Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen described Tuesday's legal ruling by the agency as "a milestone, but it's obviously not the last one. We fully expect a long process that would include the Environmental Appeals Board as well as potentially, perhaps even likely, an appeal through the court system. We remain concerned about how the rest of the process plays itself out."
A meeting of the Rest of River Municipal Committee is slated for 9 a.m. Thursday in the Stockbridge Town Offices. Members include representatives from six communities — Pittsfield, Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield — as well as the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
Members plan to discuss renewal of the three-year formal agreement, which expires Nov. 21, that created the committee and enabled it to hire legal counsel to seek potential compensation for the communities from GE.
The communities are represented by the Pawa Law Group, based in Newton just outside Boston. Last October, the firm won a decision by the New Hampshire Supreme Court upholding a $236 million verdict against ExxonMobil for contaminating the state's groundwater with the gasoline additive MTBE.
The law firm, headed by Matthew Pawa, had represented the state in the long-running environmental case since 2003. In 2012 and early 2013 all defendants except ExxonMobil settled. In April 2013 a jury had awarded the state all of the damages it sought against ExxonMobil.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551. email@example.com @BE_cfanto on Twitter.
HOW THE EPA APPEALS PROCESS WORKS
The legal ruling by EPA Regional Counsel Carl Dierker upholding the agency's plan for a Rest of River PCB cleanup from southeast Pittsfield to Lenox can be challenged by filing objections to the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board, the final decision maker on administrative appeals under all major environmental laws that EPA administers.
Located in Washington, the board is an impartial tribunal independent for substantive purposes of all agency components outside the Immediate Office of the Administrator. The board's four environmental appeals judges sit in panels of three and make decisions by majority vote. Created in 1992, the board functions as an administrative appeals court within EPA. It primarily decides cases involving challenges to the terms of federal environmental permits and cases involving challenges to EPA's assessment of financial penalties for violations of the environmental laws.
An enforcement case will not ordinarily reach the board until an EPA administrative law judge or other presiding officer has issued a decision on the matter and someone who is adversely affected by that decision files an appeal.
Although the board is part of EPA, it is independent of the EPA offices who are parties to the cases. This independence allows it to make fair decisions for or against any party to the appeal. The board gives equal consideration to the legal arguments made by members of the public and their counsel and the legal arguments made by EPA lawyers. To ensure it remains impartial, the board will not communicate with one party to a case that is pending without the other party being present.
The board's decision is EPA's final decision on the dispute and is binding on the parties to the dispute, unless the decision is reversed by a federal court. A party (other than EPA) who is dissatisfied with the board's decision may appeal that decision to a federal court.
Source: U.S. EPA Environmental Appeals Board. Online: https://yosemite.epa.gov/oa/EAB_Web_Docket.nsf
Woods Pond shines in autumn colors Wednesday. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)
Tim Gray, executive Director of the Housatonic River Initiative poses at Woods Pond in Lenox, in April of 2016. Photo by Ben Garver - The Berkshire Eagle.
“EPA plan faces 2 appeals on Housatonic River plan: 1 says it's too strict, 1 says it's too lenient”
By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, November 10, 2016
LENOX - Two appeals are being filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's final plan demanding that GE remove most of the PCBs from the Housatonic River downstream from Pittsfield to Great Barrington.
The $613 million project would last up to 15 years, starting with two years of design, and requires the company to ship toxic material to a licensed out-of-state facility, preferably by rail.
GE has notified the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board, a four-judge panel based in Washington, D.C., of its intention to appeal the agency's cleanup order, unveiled on Oct. 24, by the 30-day deadline following posting of the final decision. Filing an appeal ensures a further, unpredictable delay in starting the project. If the board rules against a petitioner, the case could go to federal court in Boston.
The company's planned, 17,000-word document is expected to object to the site-disposal requirement, since GE prefers to dump the probable cancer-causing toxins at one of three landfill sites in Lee and the Great Barrington village of Housatonic, yielding cost savings of at least $250 million.
Another likely objection: Instead of the EPA's requirement to remove 89 percent of the PCBs flowing over the dam at Woods Pond and at Rising Pond in Housatonic, the company hopes to save an additional $130 million by limiting that to 13 percent.
Word of the upcoming GE appeal came during Wednesday night's quarterly meeting of the Citizens Coordinating Council, which has been monitoring the PCB cleanup of the Housatonic for more than a decade. The appeals board is part of the EPA but operates independently.
At the meeting held in the Lenox Library, Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative (HRI) that he founded in 1992, announced that his group already has filed an appeal challenging the EPA cleanup order as inadequate.
"EPA allows GE to leave too many toxic PCBs in both the riverbank soils and riverbank sediments when there are demonstrably effective and ecologically sound ways to remove them from the environment and successfully restore the environment that has been remediated," Gray said.
According to HRI's appeal written by founding member Benno Friedman, "EPA's Rest of River Remedy unnecessarily allows these remaining PCBs at high levels to continue to put both human health and the health of wildlife and the environment at risk."
The group's appeal also argues that the EPA failed to consider alternative cleanup technologies while consigning sections of the river below Housatonic village to "monitored natural recovery."
"Choosing not to mandate the treatment and significant reduction of PCB-contaminated sediment and bank soil results in the unnecessary landfilling of great amounts of contaminated material," according to the HRI document. "This decision therefore perpetuates unnecessary risks to human health and the environment."
"We still believe that nobody really knows how many PCBs are in this river," Gray told the citizens group meeting, citing state Department of Environmental Protection estimates of 46,000 pounds. He called the number "ridiculous," contending it was offered by a GE consultant.
Gray contended that the final version of the EPA plan reduces by up to one-third the original total of the chemicals originally targeted for potential removal.
"We should be getting this river in shape to someday be fishable and swimmable," he said.
"This incomplete cleanup will never give us the the safe, fishable, swimmable river we deserve," Friedman said. "The fish, the ducks, the people of Berkshire County deserve a PCB-free Housatonic."
Gray also warned that "smart GE lawyers" could ultimately prevail in their demand to create local dumping sites for PCBs if the case ends up at the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
The scope of the cleanup, whenever it starts, involves the removal of 990,000 cubic yards (nearly 1.4 million tons) of PCB-contaminated material, requiring an estimated 99,000 truck trips.
EPA Rest of River Project Manager Dean Tagliaferro, involved in the PCB cleanup since 1998, outlined the history of the Consent Decree, a legal agreement filed at U.S. District Court in Springfield 16 years ago. It sets out the framework for removing the toxins leached into the river by GE at its Pittsfield electrical transformer plant from 1930 to 1977, when the U.S. government banned the chemical.
He noted that the Massachusetts DEP is on board with the agency's final cleanup plan.
Detailing the plan covering the river from its east-west confluence in Pittsfield to Derby Dam in Connecticut, Tagliaferro noted the vast majority of PCB removal will be in Pittsfield, Lenox and Lee.
At the Columbia, Eagle and Willow Mills in Lee, as well as the dams at the hydroelectric plant in the Glendale section of Stockbridge and at Rising Pond in Housatonic, excavation and potential engineered caps are envisioned unless the dams are removed along with contaminated sediment.
Most of the 10.5-mile section of the river from Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox Dale and Lee involves bank-to-bank excavation followed by installation of an engineered cap.
The Pittsfield portion, described by Tagliaferro as "the most challenging," would require five years of excavation and capping, while the Lenox section would take about three years, beginning at year 5.
Woods Pond is targeted for excavation, sediment removal, deepening of the pond and engineered capping in multiple layers aimed at preventing any remaining PCBs from migrating back into the river.
The EPA requires off-site disposal of toxic material to a licensed, existing off-site out-of-state landfill, Tagliaferro said. "We do have a provision that if it's applicable going forward at some point, we could reconsider that and use alternative or innovative technologies," he added.
Several members of the citizens council questioned the durability of the capping system after Tagliaferro cited a potential "life expectancy" of 100 to 200 years.
"There's a balance here, some people would rather have us remove 2 or 3 million cubic yards," said Bryan Olson, EPA director of site remediation and restoration. "GE would rather have us remove a lot less than 990,000. We're trying to balance it such that we're removing enough PCBs so capping becomes much less of an issue over time. If we leave any PCBs, it's always going to be an issue that they're eventually going to get into the water column."
"We are removing a real lot of PCBs from the river system so this becomes less of an issue over a long, long period of time," he said.
Reach Clarence Fanto at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-637-2551.
“Appeals testify to worthiness of EPA proposal”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, November 11, 2016
Testifying to the success of the Environmental Protection Agency in finding a solid middle ground on the cleanup of the Housatonic River downstream from Pittsfield is the opposition to the EPA's plan from combatants in each corner. The likely result is that nothing will happen in the foreseeable future.
Two appeals are being made against the EPA's plan, one from General Electric, which finds the plan too burdensome, and the other from the Housatonic River Initiative, which argues that GE is being let off the hook with an inadequate cleanup (Eagle, November 11.) For nearly 50 years, until 1977, toxic PCBs leached into the river from GE's electrical transformer plant in Pittsfield.
The final EPA plan, which is supported by the state Department of Environmental Protection, calls for an extensive cleanup of Woods Pond in Lenox Dale and Lee, cleanup of other toxic hot spots, and capping in excavated areas. It would eliminate 89 percent of the PCBs flowing over Woods Pond and Rising Pond. It is ambitious but not unreasonable.
GE's predictable appeal came in part because the EPA will not sign off on the company's desire to dump excavated soil in three South Berkshire landfill sites. This contaminated material must be trucked away, and if that costs the corporation an extra $285 million, it can easily afford it. GE also wants to settle for eliminating only 13 percent of the PCBs flowing over Woods and Rising ponds so it can save $130 million, which is utterly unacceptable.
The HRI argues that the EPA plan leaves far too much PCB contamination in the river. It would be ideal for the entire river to be swimmable and fishable, but cleaning the river to that extent would be a formidable and almost assuredly destructive process in itself. A GE determined to fight the EPA proposal would be even more aggressive in fighting the environmentalists' demands, inviting decades of delay in any cleanup, if not total failure.
The Consent Decree succeeded in Pittsfield because it was a compromise, which by definition leaves no one entirely happy. The upper portion of the river was cleaned, its banks have recovered, and contaminated property throughout Pittsfield was cleaned as well. The city is a far better place because of a Consent Decree that left all signatories grumbling to an extent.
The EPA's plan for the Rest of the River cleanup is in that spirit of compromise. If it started tomorrow it would take 13 to 15 years from design to completion, but of course it is not going to start tomorrow or any time soon. The twin appeals likely assure years of delay before a cubic yard of contaminated soil is removed, which will please General Electric and no one else.
Our Opinion: “Independent study of Wal-Mart proposal”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 4, 2017
Introduction of a Walmart Supercenter to the William Stanley Business Park would have a significant effect upon the neighborhood and Pittsfield as a whole. The scope of the project warrants an independent review.
City Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo proposed an independent review last week (Eagle, December 31). The board of Downtown Inc. requested that the City Council insist on an independent study last year, but the Council rejected the request (Councilor Mazzeo supported it) on the grounds that it was premature because the developer had not requested permits. In December, the developer, Waterstone Retail Development of Needham, signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA) and Waterstone is likely to file applications for the project this month. The time is right for that independent study.
The developer asserts that the supercenter at the 16.1 acre "teens" parcel would bring between $200,000 and $500,000 in annual tax revenue to the city and add 100 employees to the current staff of 200 at the Walmart in Pittsfield's Berkshire Crossing. While the jobs and taxes are welcome, a study could examine the supercenter's impact upon other businesses in the city to determine the net economic effect of the new store on Pittsfield taxes and area employment. The study could assess the impact that the Berkshire Crossing Walmart has had upon city businesses.
The supercenter is planned as the first step in a larger project that would include medical offices, life sciences firms and light manufacturing. These are potentially significant selling points and an independent study could evaluate this phase of the project, along with its impact on the viability of PEDA's plans for the remainder of the business park.
The original intent of the William Stanley Business Park was to serve as a base for manufacturers. The specifics of the proposal aside, the city must wrestle with the larger implications of surrendering 16 of its 52 acres to a retail project with only the potential of some unspecified light manufacturing.
PEDA Executive Director Corydon Thurston told The Eagle he believes Waterstone will include economic impact information in an upcoming filing and residents and officials look forward to seeing this information. However, there is no substitute for an independent study unburdened by vested interests.
The City Council can ask those seeking special permits to fund studies relevant to city decisions. The decision on the Walmart Supercenter is clearly a critical one, and we urge the City Council to approve Councilor Mazzeo's proposal for an independent study and to pursue funding from Waterstone for the study.
Cory Thurston, executive director of of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, announced Wednesday he plans to step down at the end of May. "I believe the time is right for a fresh look at an open and inclusive economic development structure within the city," he said. Eagle file.
“PEDA Executive Director Cory Thurston to step down in May”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, March 29, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Corydon "Cory" Thurston, the executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, told PEDA's board on Wednesday that he plans to step down in May following six years in the position.
Thurston, who turns 65 later this year, also owns his cell tower service company, and said he plans on returning to the private sector. The son of the late Berkshire broadcasting pioneer Donald Thurston, Cory Thurston also has previous experience in land acquisition, sales, marketing and communications, and served as the president and COO of the Berkshire Broadcasting Co. before it was sold to Vox Radio Group in 2004.
"It's been six years," said Thurston, who lives in Williamstown. "I think there's an opportunity here for some consolidation and rearrangement that has to happen for the sake of the city and for the long term viability of PEDA. I think it's the right time to make that change."
PEDA is charged with the business park's development.
"I'm looking for some reduced hours and the elimination of the commute," he said. "I've got a business of my own that I've had for years in North Adams. I may spend a little more time with that and I have some family obligations."
Although the decision was announced publicly for the first time at Wednesday's PEDA board meeting, Thurston said he had decided to leave a couple of weeks ago. He said it was a hard decision to make.
"It just reached the time where it's just 'OK, I think the timing is good,' " he said.
PEDA board Chairman Maurice Callahan said no timetable has been set to hire Thurston's successor.
At large city Councilor Melissa Mazzeo, who has been critical of the slow development at the Stanley Business Park, believes the city should find someone with experience in cleaning up toxic waste sites to succeed Thurston. The 52-acre business park is located on part of the campus of General Electric's former power transformer operations, which is a brownfields site.
"I hope and pray that the mayor and the board for PEDA looks for someone with the experience to handle a brownfields redevelopment," said Mazzeo, who also thanked Thurston for his service. "A site like this is way more difficult than people realize."
Thurston, appointed during the final year of four-term Mayor James M. Ruberto's administration, is only the third person to serve as PEDA's executive director in the quasi-public agency's 19 year history, and the only one from outside the agency. PEDA's initial executive director, former City Council President Thomas E. Hickey Jr., was involved in the formation of the organization, and his successor, William M. Hines Sr., was a former PEDA board member. Hines served as PEDA's interim executive director from the time Hickey left in February 2009 until his retirement in April 2011.
During Thurston's tenure as executive director, PEDA received ownership of the final parcels of the Stanley Business Park from GE; oversaw the construction of the MountainOne Financial Center on park property; and with the city of Pittsfield was involved in the process of obtaining a $9.7 million state earmark to construct the Berkshire Innovation Center, which has yet to be built.
A new CSX Railroad bridge on Woodlawn Avenue that spans park property was constructed during Thurston's tenure. The agency also reached a purchase and sales agreement with Waterstone Retail Development of Needham to construct a Walmart Supercenter in another area of the park.
Reach Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224 or email@example.com.
“Councilor Mazzeo pushes Tyer on GE cleanup at business park”
By Carrie Saldo, The Berkshire Eagle, March 31, 2017
PITTSFIELD — The city needs to remind General Electric of its responsibilities for cleanup at the William Stanley Business Park.
That's the message from City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo, who has asked Mayor Linda M. Tyer to request a meeting with the company to discuss its intentions for the PCB contaminated site it once owned. Tyer could not be reached for comment.
"I'm a city councilor; they are not going to take my call," Mazzeo said of GE officials. "They will take the mayor's call."
Her comments come at a pivotal time for the business park, which for years has struggled to draw tenants. Currently, the park is home to the MountainOne Financial Center and an Eversource solar facility.
Waterstone Retail Development of Needham signed a purchase and sales agreement with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority in December to build a proposed $30 million Walmart Supercenter on a 16.5 acre portion of the business park known as the "teens" site. The developer is expected to file plans with the city next week.
And the head of the PEDA, which manages the business park, announced Wednesday he will step down in May.
"Everything is all up in the air right now, so this is the perfect time for a meeting," Mazzeo said.
The business park is the former home of GE's power transformer facility, which used PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, a suspected carcinogen that was banned in 1977. In 2000, the EPA and GE finalized a settlement, known as the consent decree, that requires the company to clean up PCB contamination there and elsewhere. PEDA began taking ownership of parts of the site, which would become the park, from GE in 2005.
Proposed changes to EPA rules for cleanup at the site could cost more than PEDA would be able to afford.
Waterstone officials have said if it develops at the business park it will pay for cleanup and make the necessary changes to stormwater management; a move that has been discussed as desirable by members of PEDA.
Corydon Thurston, PEDA's outgoing executive director, has said cleanup would be too expensive for the quasi-public agency to afford if the EPA decides to enforce stricter permit regulations proposed about two years ago.
But Mazzeo doesn't believe that cost is PEDA's responsibility.
"Waterstone is saying the EPA is hanging this dagger over our heads," she said.
If the EPA decides to enforce more stringent cleanup regulations she believes GE will be responsible for that cleanup.
"We have the consent decree," she said. "That is our armor. ... Let GE go fight with the EPA. We should sit back [and say] 'You guys made the mess. You deal with it.'"
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @carriesaldo.
The Housatonic River spills into Woods Pond in Lenox, Wednesday, March 29, 2016. Ben Garver - The Berkshire Eagle.
“In 127-page filing, GE blasts cost, legality of Housatonic River cleanup plan”
By Clarence Fanto, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, April 2, 2017
As the three-judge independent Environmental Appeals Board panel continues its review of the EPA's Rest of River order to General Electric to remove PCBs from the Housatonic, the company has fired back with a hard-hitting response striking at the front lines of its legal confrontation with the federal government.
In its 127-page filing on the March 27 deadline set by the board for "friend of the court" responses, the company contends that the EPA cannot impose off-site disposal of toxic PCB waste as there is "no environmental benefit."
On the contrary, GE argues that there are "adverse environmental impacts associated with the out-of-state transport and disposal of sediment and soil."
"Safe, cost-effective local options exist," according to the company.
Last year, GE listed three potential local sites where PCB contaminants could be dumped — an existing landfill on the Lee-Lenox line adjacent to Woods Pond, the hottest of PCB "hot spots," a site off Forest Street in Lee or a tract near Rising Pond in Housatonic, a village within Great Barrington.
However, state regulations bar the dumping of PCBs in Massachusetts since there are no qualified federally-licensed facilities.
Local residents, town governments, environmental groups and the state Department of Environmental Protection have strongly backed the EPA's insistence that the probable cancer-causing toxins must be trucked, or preferably shipped by rail, to a licensed federal facility out of state.
Other key points in GE's response to the EPA order:
- The agency "must clearly define the scope of the remedy. The final permit contains vague, open-ended performance standards that leave the door open for future second-guessing."
- EPA "cannot impose additional dredging that is not required to protect human health or the environment."
- The agency must abide by the legal requirements of the Consent Decree governing the cleanup of the river, a legal filing at U.S. District Court in Springfield in October 2000. "Under this standard, EPA's interpretations are untenable."
The federal government's Rest of River cleanup order for the river downstream from Fred Garner Park in southeast Pittsfield through Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge and points south calls for GE to fund a $613 million dredging, excavation and soil-sediment disposal in phases over 13 years.
The company argues that out-of-state shipping of contaminants would cost an additional $160 million to $245 million to achieve the same results as local dumping.
GE contends the EPA's required remedy is arbitrary and clearly erroneous "by offering rationales that are inconsistent with the evidence and by reaching conclusions that cannot be attributed to the application of agency expertise."
"When EPA disregarded cost and opted for out-of-state disposal, it improperly relied on factors beyond" the Consent Decree requirements, the document states. "These fundamental errors constitute arbitrary decision-making."
GE also stated that "state and local concerns are not valid" for selecting cleanup remedies such as the location of PCB waste disposal: "Nothing EPA says can explain or justify its pivot to the contradictory position that `off-site disposal is more protective of human health and the environment than on-site disposal.'"
The company's team of attorneys also blasted the government's requirement that additional cleanup based on monitoring could be required after the dredging and excavation project has been completed.
Zeroing in on a central legal dispute, GE stated that "under EPA's argument, on the one hand, the [Environmental Appeals] Board would lack jurisdiction over arguments that GE did not raise in comments, and on the other hand, it need not hear arguments raised in comments and addressed in the [EPA's] Response to Comments.
"If that were true, then there would effectively be nothing for this Board to review, and the Consent Decree's provisions for administrative and judicial review would be nullified."
On the thorniest issue — the disposal of PCB waste — GE alleges that the EPA "erred when it selected out-of-state disposal" because, as GE has already argued, cost is a "key factor in the Consent Decree permit and cost-effectiveness is a fundamental principle of reasoned agency decision-making."
According to GE, "EPA continues to insist that [the Consent Decree] mandates only `off-site' disposal, implying that it does not necessarily require out-of-state disposal. The response submitted by Massachusetts exposes this as a fiction by admitting that no qualified disposal facilities exist in the Commonwealth."
Company attorneys also complain that "when trying to justify its extraordinary selection of costly out-of-state disposal, EPA has consistently cited what it has called `public and state opposition,' and described, in detail, `persistent and vigorous opposition' by local communities and governments. That opposition has undeniably played a critical role in EPA's selection of a disposal remedy, and it is therefore a critical element of this Board's assessment."
The company also accuses the EPA of failing to "mention or account for the increased risks that would result" from off-site shipment of PCB-contaminated material.
It cites "the risk of releases during long-range transport of over a million cubic yards of contaminated sediment/soil to an out-of-state facility, and the substantially greater greenhouse gas emissions that would result from out-of-state rail transport."
Supporting its contention that nearby disposal of PCB waste in South Berkshire would be safe and effective, GE states that "of course the on-site facility would be fully regulated by EPA and compliant with applicable federal and state law." The company contends that there's an exemption in the Consent Decree that allows unlicensed on-site disposal.
GE also reminds the Environmental Appeals Board judges that "EPA has previously recognized the protectiveness of on-site disposal by approving on-site disposal facilities at an existing landfill (Hill 78 in the Allendale section of Pittsfield)."
On another sharp bone of contention between the government and the company, GE calls the EPA's requirement for a deep-dredging cleanup of Woods Pond in Lenox "arbitrary and capricious because it is disproportionately costly and disruptive compared to a remedy that would involve much less removal yet be equally effective."
The company describes the EPA solution as requiring "vastly more sediment removal from Woods Pond, at greater cost and with more short-term adverse effects, than is needed to achieve protectiveness."
Instead, GE is calling for much less removal of sediment followed by an engineered cap of the pond. The EPA argues that a cap could be compromised by a flood, dam breach or engineering failure.
Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at email@example.com or 413-637-2551.
Excerpts of GE filing . . .
In its response to the Environmental Appeals Board on the federal government-ordered cleanup of PCBs from the Housatonic River downstream from southeast Pittsfield, General Electric's attorneys focused on a cost-saving, nearby disposal of toxic waste in Lenox, Lee or Great Barrington rather than shipping it to a federally licensed facility out of state:
"If state and local opposition to on-site disposal is not a legitimate remedy-selection criterion, as GE contends, then EPA has relied on an `improper
factor' and its decision is arbitrary and capricious. Whether EPA was entitled to consider such opposition is a matter of interpretation of the Consent Decree; EPA's own response implicitly concedes as much.
"Thus, with respect to this issue, the [Environmental Appeals] Board owes EPA no deference. Recognizing this vulnerability, EPA states at the outset that it did not consider `state and community acceptance' as an independent criterion in its analysis of disposal options. EPA thus tacitly acknowledges that it could not take public opinion `independently' into account because - as the Agency says elsewhere - `the Consent Decree does not explicitly list community and state acceptance as stand-alone remedy selection criteria.'
"Instead, it contorts its position to nevertheless rely on this opposition through a backdoor by asserting that EPA can base its remedy selection on public opinion regardless of the Consent Decree.”
The Housatonic River at Woods Pond, looking at the pedestrian bridge, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Credit: Ben Garver, The Berkshire Eagle.
The Housatonic River at Woods Pond, looking south towards the pedestrial bridge and Woods Pond dam, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Credit: Ben Garver, The Berkshire Eagle.
The Housatonic River at Woods Pond, looking at the pedestrial bridge, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Credit: Ben Garver, The Berkshire Eagle.
A landfill in the vicinity of Woods Pond. Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Credit: Ben Garver, The Berkshire Eagle.
Our Opinion: “Critical GE-EPA issues on two fronts”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, April 3, 2017
The responsibilities of General Electric and the role of the Environmental Protection Agency are at the core of two pivotal issues in Berkshire County that will have long-range implications for the region.
In a filing with the three-judge Independent Environmental Appeals reviewing the EPA's Rest of River order to GE to remove PCBs from the Housatonic River as it flows south out of Pittsfield (Eagle, April 3), GE again emphatically argued that it be allowed to establish local sites where PCBs could be dumped. The EPA wants the contaminated fill to be transported to a disposal site, a recommendation backed by residents' groups, town officials, environmental organizations and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
GE cites the need for "cost-effectiveness" in a cleanup solution in arguing for the landfill sites, but EPA's primary responsibility is to to find the best solution environmentally. While GE notes that there are risks associated with transporting wastes to other sites accidents are hardly common, which has to be balanced against the establishment of a toxic dump that will become a permanent part of the Berkshire landscape.
GE has proposed three possible sites, one in a landfill on the Lee-Lenox line, another off Forest Street in Lee and a third in Housatonic. None of these sites are federally licensed — in fact, there are no such sites in the state — which prevents the dumping of PCBs in Massachusetts under state regulations. Overall, The EPA proposal, which does not demand a dredging of the entire river as it flows to Connecticut, is hardly unreasonable in terms of its demands on GE. Berkshire County takes its environmental legacy seriously, which accounts for the unanimity of opposition to any effort to dump PCB-contaminated fill in the Berkshires, and we urge the Independent Environmental Appeals panel to back the EPA's insistence that PCB waste be transported to an appropriate facility. Waste from GE's cleanup of the Hudson River in New York, for example, was transported to a waste facility in Andrews, Texas.
Proposed stricter EPA rules for the cleaning of PCB contamination could possibly raise the costs of removing further contamination of PCBs at the William Stanley Park. This has been an argument used in favor of Waterstone Retail Development's plan to build a $40 million Walmart Supercenter on a 16.5-acre portion of the site, as Waterstone has promised that it will pay for the cleanup of PCBs on the site.
Pittsfield City Council At Large Melissa Mazzeo asks, however, if GE would be required to clean up this property under the original Consent Decree if these EPA rules are enacted (Eagle, April 1). Getting clarification from the corporation as to how it interprets its responsibilities for the business park is important, and Mayor Linda Tyer would be the person to ask, as Councilor Mazzeo suggested. It is far from clear at this point that the proposed Walmart Supercenter is right for the park, the neighborhood or the city. If GE cleaned up the park contamination, one component of Waterstone's case would be removed.
Overhanging all of the EPA's actions in the state is a Trump administration plan revealed by The Washington Post (Eagle, April 1) to cut the agency's budget by 31 percent and lay off 25 percent of its employees. An agency hit that hard would likely have difficulty designing and enforcing complex cleanup programs like the Rest of River cleanup, and it is easy to imagine an EPA now headed by long-time EPA foe Scott Pruitt walking away from or diluting the agency's Rest of River proposal. Whatever happens with the Housatonic and the Stanley Business Park, the Berkshires and the nation need a strong EPA, not a weakened one.
“EPA moves to settle with GE on ‘rest of river’ PCB cleanup challenge”
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, June 1, 2017
PITTSFIELD — The federal Environmental Protection Agency now seeks to settle its long dispute with the General Electric Co. over Housatonic River pollution, just months after ordering GE to embark on a $613 million cleanup.
In a move that caught local environmentalists by surprise, the EPA is moving to postpone a Washington hearing on its cleanup order, in favor of reopening talks with the company.
The action, outlined in a memo sent Wednesday to activists in the Berkshires, comes a week before the case was to be heard by the EPA Appeals Board. GE last fall appealed the agency's directive that it remove or cap most of the tainted sediment from southeast Pittsfield to Lenox and points south.
For years, the company discharged PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyl, into the river related to its transformer manufacturing business in Pittsfield. The substance, a suspected carcinogen, was banned in the 1970s.
The EPA memo says the agency wants to delay the appeals board action for 90 days "pending completion of settlement discussions."
"The EPA administrator," the agency says, "has expressed a strong policy interest in expediting and finalizing resolution at Superfund cleanups."
That is a reference to a May 22 memo from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that says he is taking personal charge of cleanups that would cost $50 million or more.
In addition to having him take over control of big-ticket cleanups, Pruitt's memo calls for a task force that would, among other duties, "reduce the administrative and overhead costs and burdens borne by parties remediating contaminated sites, including a re-examination of the level of agency oversight necessary."
Notice of the requested 90-day delay in the appeals process reached the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission around 3 p.m. Wednesday. The email said responses had to be filed that same day.
Nathaniel Karns, the commission's executive director, said an attorney representing five Berkshire County towns bordering the lower Housatonic River acted quickly to file an objection to the delay in the hearing and the move to reopen talks with GE.
Karns said the same-day notice of the change, in a case that stretches back over a decade, struck him as odd.
“That’s awfully unusual, from my understanding,” he said.
Karns said Pruitt’s directive appears to have triggered an about-face by the EPA on the GE cleanup.
By seeking to reopen talks with GE, the agency is backing down from the costly, 13-year cleanup it ordered last fall.
"He [Pruitt] felt he had the power to pull this back," Karns said.
Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said she was unable to respond to the EPA memo in the limited time made available to her and others.
"I wish I knew what was behind it," she said of the requested delay. "We do not think they [EPA] will be negotiating to better protect the environment. I'm suspicious."
The text of the EPA memo announcing the shift reads as follows:
"EPA proposes to move for a 90-day stay in the five In Re General Electric Company actions ... and, further, to hold oral argument in abeyance pending completion of settlement discussions.
"The EPA Administrator has expressed a strong policy interest in expediting and finalizing resolution at Superfund cleanups. Although the case has been fully briefed, EPA has determined that a stay of the proceedings at this time is appropriate and necessary to reopen mediation discussions with interested parties to ascertain if a comprehensive settlement of the pending appeals can be reached.
"A discrete stay of the proceedings would provide the administrator an opportunity to pursue a narrowly defined objective — to assess the viability of a negotiated resolution of this matter in lieu of protracted administrative/judicial proceedings — and would hold the promise of conserving the parties' limited resources and would hold the potential of expediting necessary remedial actions if agreement can be reached.
As of Thursday, the clerk of the appeal board had not learned of any delay in the planned arguments set to be presented June 8 in Washington.
In his May 22 memo, Pruitt noted that one consideration for the task force will be to "streamline and improve the remedy development and selection process, particularly at sites with contaminated sediment."
The Housatonic PCB cleanup focuses in large part on removal of contaminated soils and sediment. "Remedy selection" concerns the types of cleanups required by the EPA.
Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.
Our Opinion: “EPA decision on river should worry Berkshires”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, June 2, 2017
The Environmental Protection Agency's decision to try to settle its dispute with General Electric over the cleanup of the Housatonic River is a shoe that many, including The Eagle, have been waiting to drop since the appointment of Scott Pruitt as EPA head. It is a worrisome development, especially if it goes forward without the necessary transparency.
The decision, which came to light in a memo that began circulating Wednesday, arrived a week before the EPA's stalemate with GE was to be heard by a three-judge Environmental Appeals Board. GE is appealing the EPA directive on the grounds that the remedy for addressing sediment contaminated by PCBs from southeast Pittsfield south through the Berkshires is too extensive. The Housatonic was polluted by PCBs from GE's transformer division in Pittsfield. The EPA memo says the agency prefers to delay the hearing for 90 days while it pursues a settlement.
Could a fair settlement be arrived at that ends the stalemate over the proposed $613 million settlement? Theoretically, yes, but it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which GE agree to anything that does not lessen its cleanup responsibilities. The memo refers to the desire of the "EPA administrator," — Mr. Pruitt — to expedite a resolution of cleanup sites. Mr. Pruitt has taken charge personally of all cleanups with a cost of more than $50 million.
As attorney general of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt sued the EPA 13 times and was a critic of what he described as the agency's "activist agenda." President Trump, who appointed Mr. Trump, has submitted a fiscal 2018 budget that cuts EPA funding by 31 percent and would reduce the the $1.1 billion Superfund allocation by one-third. That a spokesman for the EPA's Boston office, which has long been involved in the Housatonic River cleanup and has been willing to answer media questions and provide details about cleanup actions and proposals, referred a reporter's question to EPA headquarters in Washington further demonstrates that the settlement decision came directly from the top.
Since the river cleanup process began 20 years ago, Berkshire environmental groups have had a seat at the negotiating table and the public has been able to offer its input at hearings attended by officials from the EPA office in Boston. There is reason to fear this will not happen as the settlement policy goes forward. We expect that First District Congressman Richard Neal and Massachusetts Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren will pressure the EPA to continue to involve the Berkshire populace and environmental groups. A settlement should not be handed down to the Berkshires as a done deal without that input and a transparent process going forward.
Governor Baker, who told The Eagle at a recent editorial board meeting that he supports the EPA agreement as is, should oppose any weakening of that agreement and work to assure the involvement of county residents and environmentalists. That precedent has been established. GE, which is now headquartered in Boston in part because of the receipt of state tax breaks and incentives, should feel a responsibility to do well by the region of the state where it once had such a significant presence.
Skepticism about pursuit of a settlement will be eased somewhat through transparency and public involvement in the process by the EPA. Without it, skepticism will grow quickly and dramatically.
The Lane Construction parcel runs parallel to the Housatonic River south of Woods Pond in Lenox and extends to Lee. This is one of three local sites that General Electric has identified as possible places to dump PCB-tainted sediment dredged from the Housatonic River. Credit: Ben Garver, The Berkshire Eagle.
“Rest of River cleanup fight heads to DC for hearing on GE appeal”
By Larry Parnass, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, June 7, 2017
PITTSFIELD — On cable news channels, clocks are ticking down to a momentous event Thursday in Washington, D.C.
But for many in the Berkshires, the news that hits closest to home will be made not on Capitol Hill by former FBI Director James Comey, but down the Mall at the William Jefferson Clinton East Building.
There, in Room 1152, a decades-long debate over General Electric Co.'s responsibility for PCB pollution in the Housatonic River will be explored by three judges sitting on the Environmental Appeals Board.
For four hours, attorneys representing GE, the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Environmental Protection Agency and other parties will spar over differences related to the $613 million, 13-year cleanup the EPA imposed last fall on GE.
This "Rest of River" action focuses on removing cancer-causing PCBs from areas downstream of Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield and through the towns of Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge and other communities to the south. The substance polychlorinated biphenyl was released into the river as part of GE's transformer manufacturing business, until PCB hazards were recognized and its use banned in 1977.
Kathie A. Stein, one of the judges hearing the appeal, notes that the board had to schedule both morning and afternoon sessions "given the complexity of the matter and the large number of appeals, parties and issues."
The session comes amid word of a policy turnaround within the EPA.
Last week, Timothy M. Conway, a senior EPA attorney in Boston, notified parties to the dispute that the agency wanted to work outside of the appeals process to settle the case with GE. That announcement caught Berkshires environmentalists by surprise. At least two parties were able within hours to file objections to it.
In a memo, Conway linked the abrupt shift to a new message from Washington.
The EPA's new administrator, Scott Pruitt, wrote in a May 22 directive that he would take personal charge of cleanups costing $50 million or more.
But Conway's request for a 90-day delay in the appeals process came too late to affect plans for the oral arguments scheduled Thursday.
Rather than seek to pre-empt the proceeding, Conway will appear like any other attorney at the session.
"Mr. Conway intends to respond to the issues presented by the board," said Nancy Grantham, a spokeswoman for the EPA headquarters office.
Nonetheless, given the circumstances, Conway will be free in the course of his responses to be guided by signals coming down from Pruitt.
In his memo last week, Conway wrote, "EPA proposes to move for a 90-day stay in the five In Re General Electric Company actions ... and, further, to hold oral argument in abeyance pending completion of settlement discussions. The EPA Administrator has expressed a strong policy interest in expediting and finalizing resolution at Superfund cleanups."
It continued, "Although the case has been fully briefed, EPA has determined that a stay of the proceedings at this time is appropriate and necessary to reopen mediation discussions with interested parties to ascertain if a comprehensive settlement of the pending appeals can be reached."
Conway's memo signaled that on policy matters, the ground was shifting under the cleanup order that GE had appealed. A company spokesman said it stood ready to participate in Thursday's oral arguments, but was also ready to talk.
"GE welcomes the opportunity to try to find a common-sense solution," said spokesman Jeff Caywood.
The appeals board, while part of the EPA, operates independently of the agency's administrator. The board's decisions can be appealed to the D.C. circuit of the federal courts.
When oral arguments begin at 10 a.m., the board will first explore whether the EPA's order is inconsistent with the consent decree reached by the parties in October 2000.
Next up is discussion of the cost of the EPA's cleanup order. The board says it wants lawyers to be prepared to talk about examples from federal judicial rulings or EPA decisions "illustrating how much weight was given to the cost differentials of remedial alternatives."
Judges are then expected to quiz attorneys on the "implementability" of the order.
Last up before a lunch break is a look at how the views of the state and immediate river community can and should influence the types of cleanups ordered.
The afternoon session will focus on the extent of the EPA's order — namely, whether it goes too far, or doesn't go far enough. The final topic is where to dispose of PCB-laden soil and sediments dredged from the river area.
GE is opposing a requirement that the materials be sent out of state, saying that will add $160 million to $245 million to the cleanup cost.
On each of the issues pinpointed by Stein, acting for the appeals board, lawyers will have limited time to speak.
In all, the EPA is allotted the most response time, 86 minutes, followed by GE, which gets 65 minutes over the course of the day.
Other parties, some of them addressing fewer issues, have less time, from the five minutes given Richard M. Dohoney, Pittsfield's counsel, to five minutes for Green Berkshires, 12 minutes for the state of Connecticut, 22 minutes for Massachusetts, 25 minutes for the Housatonic Rest of River group (representing river towns to the south of Pittsfield), and 35 minutes for the Housatonic River Initiative.
In a filing, Stein notes that while the proceedings identify areas of interest to the judges, the list of subjects does not indicate "that the board has made any determinations in these cases."
The board does not provide a timeframe for its decisions.
Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.
Letter: “GE should do right by Berkshire County”
The Berkshire Eagle, June 9, 2017
To the editor:
Come on, GE, do the right thing. You have a chance to do something positive and show your good intentions to the community in which you operated and from which you benefited for many years.
Depositing PCBs onto land that is now free of toxins in a community setting is unconscionable. If you are not careful, we may have to change your logo of bringing good things to life.
Elizabeth Shaker Inglis,
Letter: “Eagle too harsh on General Electric”
The Berkshire Eagle, June 9, 2017
To the editor:
GE was my employer for over 40 years, so I feel I have basis for feeling that it was and is a good company. It is unfortunate that business decisions resulted in its departure from Pittsfield and I understand the negativity that those decisions have created. However, I am confident that GE would be welcomed back to Pittsfield if the appropriate opportunity ever presented itself. That's not likely to happen but I'm confident that the GE haters would be among the welcoming party.
The Eagle has provided more examples of portraying GE in a negative manner in the issues of June 7 and 8. In Wednesday's op-ed commentary, Daniel Bellow said that "you can't go wrong thinking the worst of GE." That's more than a bit harsh. I've not read anything by Mr. Bellow in the past and I am sure I will not go wrong avoiding his comments in the future.
On Thursday, Larry Parnass wrote a news story about GE's appeal of the EPA's decision regarding PCB removal from the "Rest of River." He indicated that this action "focuses on removing cancer-causing PCB's ..." Mr. Parnass left out an important word — take your choice — probable, possible, suspected, unproven, etc. There is no definite proof that PCBs cause cancer.
Letter: “GE's cleanup stalling is apparently continuing”
The Berkshire Eagle, June 9, 2017
To the editor:
Lordy, lord. It was sometime in the early 1990s, when I was covering Lenox for The Eagle, that GE tried to wiggle out of cleaning up the Housatonic River, where it had dumped PCBs generated in the manufacture in Pittsfield of power transformers. And now, my former colleague at The Eagle, Dan Bellow, tells us the Trump administration is going to give the company a pass! ("Let a thousand lawsuits bloom," Eagle oped, June 7.) Or another few decades to figure out what they want to do about the cancer-causing chemicals they've avoided removing from our beloved river?
Letter: “GE will clean river consistent with Decree”
The Berkshire Eagle, June 17, 2017
To the editor:
General Electric is committed to cleaning up the Housatonic River, despite claims in The Berkshire Eagle "Rest of the River: GE hopes costs sways appeal" by Larry Parnass (Page 1) and "Where GE's name is mud" by Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham (page A7) on June 14. In fact, the first two miles have been cleaned, GE has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, and we remain committed to the best solution to address the Housatonic Rest of River.
For nearly 20 years, an agreement among the Environmental Protection Agency, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and GE, called the Consent Decree, has specified the criteria that EPA must use to select a Rest of River remedy. It requires that the remedy be cost-effective, and it also specifies the process for the parties to confer and, as necessary, to appeal the decision in court.
The debate here is not whether GE is going to clean up the river, but whether it can be done in a more effective way. For example, EPA said in 2015 that local disposal — which by some estimates could save hundreds of millions — would be protective to human health and the environment. Furthermore, Massachusetts has previously supported a much smaller approach than the current remedy proposed by EPA for reasons GE has cited: to protect the unique ecosystem of the Housatonic. The nearly two-decades-old agreement provides that these factors must be taken into consideration.
GE has consistently supported, and participated in, discussions with the parties to the Consent Decree, including during the administrations of Governor Patrick and President Obama. And, just like the work we have done so far, GE will finish the job consistent with the Consent Decree, while protecting human health and the environment.
The writer is vice president & chief communications officer, GE.
Letter: “GE muddies waters on Consent Decree”
The Berkshire Eagle, June 19, 2017
To the editor:
A representative of General Electric (Deirdre Latour) wrote in a June 18 letter to the editor that the Consent Decree requires that the remedy for addressing the pollution of the Rest of River be "cost-effective."
On the contrary, "cost-effective" is not to be found in the 400-page Consent Decree, at least by my reading. What is found, repeatedly, is the phrase " at the Settling Defendant's [GE's] sole cost and expense " This term of art is helpful because it reminds us that the Consent Decree of 1999 is a legal settlement which updated an earlier Consent Decree from 1981. The document Ms. Latour refers to resolved a massive complaint — a lawsuit — filed by three governmental entities (The United States, the state of Connecticut, and the commonwealth of Massachusetts).
In short, the Consent Decree was a deal. And like all deals, neither party got all they wanted. What is troubling is that although the document was signed "in good faith," here we are almost 20 years later (and 36 years later than the earlier agreement) still wrangling about terms. It is not helpful when the Settling Defendant's representatives such as Ms. Latour insist on muddying the waters.
Per the agreement GE was able to avoid " liability to the plaintiffs arising out of the transactions or occurrences alleged in the complaints [the pollution]." GE also got to maintain innocence: " nor does it [GE] acknowledge that the release or threatened release of hazardous substance(s) at or from the Site constitutes or may present an imminent or substantial endangerment to the public health or welfare or the environment " (P. 5)
On the other side of this deal were representatives of the citizens who concluded that it was better to forego the coercive power of the state and instead accept GE's promise to remediate the affected areas and reimburse taxpayer money already spent. Far from requiring cost-effective measures, the Consent Decree was focused on fixing what was wrong, asserting authority over how it would be done, and making this control explicit. In return (among other concessions) the plaintiffs agreed to a long list of "covenants" (agreements not to prosecute the company's transgressions of federal environmental law):
P.44: " Except as otherwise expressly provided in this Consent Decree, Settling Defendant shall finance and perform the work in accordance with this Consent Decree "
P. 57: " Settling Defendant shall perform the Removal Actions Outside the River in accordance with this Consent Decree "
P. 318: "These covenants not to sue are conditioned upon the satisfactory performance by Settling Defendant of its obligations under this Consent Decree."
It is not necessary for GE to be, in Ms. Latour's words " committed to the best solution to address the Housatonic Rest of River " The deal was not that GE would pursue the "best solution" but instead that they would follow through on their promises of remediation and reimbursement, in other words, that they would "finance and perform the work in accordance with this Consent Decree." The citizens of Berkshire County and Northwestern Connecticut expect no less.
Robert M. Kelly,
“Appeals board issues mixed ruling on Housatonic River cleanup”
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, January 27, 2018
PITTSFIELD — The question of whether the General Electric Co. must dispose of contaminated soils and sediment well away from the Housatonic River will get a fresh look, following a ruling Friday by the nation's top environmental court.
The Environmental Appeals Board, which has been mulling a GE appeal since June, ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its requirement that the company ship sediment removed as part of the Rest of River cleanup to off-site dumps.
That was a key aspect of the company's appeal of the terms of the 13-year, $613 million remedy the EPA ordered in late 2016.
In a 154-page decision obtained by The Eagle late Friday, the court sided with the EPA on the scope of the cleanup, as well as the agency's decision not to require that the sediments removed from the river be treated before disposal.
The Housatonic River Initiative had asked the court, in briefs and arguments in Washington, D.C., last June, to compel GE to treat polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, after removal from the river.
The chemical, long used by GE in the manufacture of transformers in Pittsfield, is listed as a probable carcinogen.
Along with the question of off-site disposal, the court remanded for further consideration the question of additional response actions "required for future work projects in the River by third parties."
On the issue of off-site disposal, the ruling said the EPA's regional office for New England "failed to exercise considered judgment in deciding that the contaminated materials excavated during the cleanup should be disposed off-site."
GE's lawyers argued that off-site disposal represented as much as $250 million of the overall cost of the cleanup.
The court faulted the EPA for ordering off-site disposal "based largely on its finding that on-site disposal would not comply with a Toxic Substances Control Act landfill regulation, but the [EPA] failed to explain why a waiver of the landfill regulation was not appropriate for GE's proposed on-site disposal locations."
GE contended that the EPA routinely grants such waivers.
"The [EPA] failed to reconcile seemingly inconsistent statements in the record," the court's ruling states.
The three judges did not say how the EPA should resolve the issue of disposal. The court simply sent the question back to the EPA to reconsider.
"The Board offers its observations on several other issues raised by the parties concerning the disposal location issue to aid in the Region's reconsideration," the ruling states in a summary. "The Board takes no position on the ultimate resolution of this question."
The court stood firmly in support of the EPA's decision to require that GE be responsible for the condition of Housatonic River dams it does not own. The agency's permit required that GE inspect and maintain dams.
"GE is mistaken that the [EPA] did not properly evaluate this provision before including it in the Final Permit and that the provision conflicts with other federal requirements pertaining to dams," the ruling says.
The decision represents a setback both for the Housatonic River Initiative and for Berkshire Environmental Action Team, or BEAT.
Both groups sought more extensive cleanups as part of the company's work to undo its legacy of pollution of the Housatonic.
The court's three judges said that the EPA did not err in turning away BEAT's request that the agency require use of activated carbon filtration when cleaning up vernal pools in the Housatonic River floodplain, as well as other measures the group favored.
A fellow environmental group, the Housatonic River Initiative, also failed to persuade the judges that the EPA was wrong in setting a scope for the cleanup that fell short of what the group preferred.
On the other hand, the court also found no merit in a claim put forward by a private citizen, Pittsfield resident C. Jeffrey Cook, that the EPA erred in the overall scope of the cleanup.
Cook held that the remedy was too extensive.
"Mr. Cook raises a number of issues that the [EPA] addressed in its response to public comments," the ruling states, "and his Petition fails to explain why those responses are clearly erroneous."
The judges did not support Cook's claim that the EPA had overestimated the extent of human exposure to PCBs.
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
“An appeals board has kicked back to the EPA the question of whether tainted sediment from a river cleanup must be trucked out of state.” – The Berkshire Eagle, 1/27/2018
I have a proposal! Put the toxic waste industrial chemicals called PCBs in the backyards of all of the GE corporate executives! Start with Jack Welch’s multiple residential properties! See how they like it!
- Jonathan Melle
Reed Anderson, a Housatonic artist, created this play on the General Electric Co. logo in which he substituted the letters standing for the toxic substance, polychlorinated biphenyls, that is driving a decades-long cleanup of the Housatonic River. Photo provided by Reed Anderson
“Focus on GE's PCB cleanup shifts to local dumps”
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, January 27, 2018
PITTSFIELD — Even before learning Friday that it must revisit a key Housatonic River cleanup question — where to put toxic materials — the Environmental Protection Agency has been shopping local.
More than a year ago, the agency ordered the General Electric Co. to carry out a 13-year effort to remove a probable carcinogen from the river. It ordered the company to ship soils and sediments laced with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, out of the area.
That became a main point of dispute when the company appealed the order. When a decision came Friday from the nation's top environmental court, the agency seemed to have anticipated that PCBs removed from the river might need to find a home in the Berkshires — to the dismay of environmental groups.
Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, said Saturday that the EPA has been visiting local groups to talk up the idea of consolidating GE's three proposed local PCB disposal sites into one.
Gray said the agency has proposed skipping use of dumps near Rising Pond in Housatonic and on Forest Street in Lee in favor of a larger site on Lane Construction property in Lenox Dale. He said the EPA has tried to build support for that by promising to expand the extent of PCB removal from the river.
Jim Murphy, a spokesman for the EPA's Boston office, said the agency expected to respond to the ruling this coming week. "We just received the decision. We're reviewing it," he said.
Jeff Caywood, director of headquarters communications for GE in Boston, expressed support for the ruling and said the company is committed to "a comprehensive cleanup of the Housatonic Rest of River that fully protects human health and the environment [and] does not result in unnecessary destruction of the surrounding habitat."
He said the company backs work that complies with the 2000 consent decree agreed to by the EPA, GE, and the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
"GE is encouraged the Environmental Appeals Board decided that EPA's proposal did not comply with the consent decree," he said in a statement to The Eagle, in response to questions. "We look forward to working with EPA to fix the plan so we can start the cleanup of the Rest of River."
While Friday's decision from the Environmental Appeals Board upheld most of the provisions that had been challenged in the EPA's planned Rest of River cleanup, the three-judge panel rejected all arguments from local environmental groups.
"We always knew this might happen," said Gray, who for decades has pushed GE to address its history of environmental degradation, stemming mainly from use of PCBs in its electrical transformer business.
The board operates independently from the EPA, but is part of the agency.
"With those kinds of odds, we never thought we were going to win this thing," Gray said of the board's association with the EPA.
While Gray and other environmentalists found their calls for a more extensive cleanup rebuffed, one resident's effort to narrow the scope of work also lost out.
C. Jeffrey Cook of Pittsfield, who filed a brief and attended the board's hearing in Washington last June, lost his bid to trim the sails on the EPA's chosen remedy for the river.
Like Gray, he knew the appeal was a long shot.
"I'm absolutely not surprised by any of this," he said Saturday. "I'm not surprised they didn't listen. You can't use as grounds for any appeal violations of common sense. The EPA is absolutely not following any common-sensical approach."
Cook argues that dredging will do unnecessary damage to the river and is based on risk assessment models that do little to protect human health.
"You can describe what they have as something between ridiculous and absurd," Cook said of the EPA plan. "That's the part of this that has been so frustrating to me."
PCBs were used by GE in Pittsfield until banned by Congress in 1979. The current cleanup is part of a 2000 consent decree; earlier work has addressed pollution on sections of the river and other sites closest to the former manufacturing in Pittsfield.
Environmentalists rue that the million cubic yards of soils and sediments poised for removal represent only one-third of the extent of PCBs in the river.
Lying between the lines in the board's 154-page decision is a sense of a long road ahead. Already, the cleanup the EPA laid out in late 2016 would take 13 years to complete.
Now, the board's order that the EPA revisit the issue of disposal sites could mean that the start of the work will be pushed back by a year or longer.
Any party dissatisfied by the EPA's course correction on dump locations can file a petition with the EAB asking for a review. From the time of GE's appeal in 2016, it took 15 months for the board to produce the decision it handed down Friday.
That ruling said the EPA's regional office for New England "failed to exercise considered judgment in deciding that the contaminated materials excavated during the cleanup should be disposed off-site."
GE had claimed that off-site disposal could add as much as $250 million to the overall cleanup cost, which the EPA estimates as $613 million.
In the appeal, the agency claimed that its hands were tied on disposal options because the Toxic Substances Control Act's provisions do not allow for a local landfill. But GE countered that the EPA has routinely granted waivers to that — and the board felt that the EPA failed to explain why a waiver would not work in the Housatonic River case.
The EPA must now take a new look at the issue of disposal sites. The board did not spell out how the EPA should resolve the issue.
The EPA's next steps are expected to include public hearings. Given past turnout at community meetings in the Berkshires, opposition to local dumping might be fierce.
Sage Radachowsky of Monterey, a member of the local Stop the Dumps group, said about 250 people showed up at a meeting in Housatonic.
"It was 'peasants with pitchforks,'" said Radachowsky, who has a science background. He said people at the meeting carried this message: "We're not going to let them build a dump right here."
"It's so sad that this has to go on for so long — appealing and then losing — just to push it toward a better direction," he said of the cleanup. He believes that Monsanto, which supplied PCBs to GE, should also be held responsible.
"These corporations have poisoned the river and should have to clean it up," Radachowsky said. "They really don't have the right values in their heart. They want to get out of this at the lowest cost."
Reed Anderson of Housatonic lives 100 yards from a possible dump site — one of his reasons for joining Stop the Dumps.
He said Saturday he believes dumping PCBs in the area, close to the river, is "shortsighted and unfortunate."
That same argument was examined at the board's June hearing.
Matthew Pawa, the attorney representing the Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee, said local dumping made no sense.
"This is not where you put a permanent waste site. Next to a river?" he asked, addressing three judges sitting across the room. "You don't plunk it down in the middle of a community."
That spurred one of the board's members, Judge Kathie A. Stein, to ask, "Are landfills typically built next to a river?"
Anderson, an artist, said people in his neighborhood toggle between feelings of helplessness and denial about the prospect of a PCB dump. For those who feel powerless, he said it goes beyond a sense of being outmatched in size, like Samson and Goliath.
"It's a mouse and Goliath," Anderson said. "I don't think GE recognizes that there are faces here. It's their turn now, whether to be a bully or to own it."
Gray, of the Housatonic River Initiative, also questions the idea of disposing of PCBs near the river. But he is also not eager to see the toxic materials shipped to someone else's neighborhood, calling that a matter of environmental justice.
That's why his group pressed, in its appeal to the EAB, to require that soils and sediments be treated to remove toxins. The board rejected that idea.
"There's one chance in history to get this right," he said. "When you put it in a package, we're getting a terrible cleanup. We wish the community would come out and join us with the notion that one of the most important things we want is a cleanup."
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
Our Opinion: "Board gives a kick to landfill hornets nest"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 30, 2018
The Environmental Appeals Board came up with something to make all parties unhappy last week in its assessment of the Environmental Protection Agency's order to General Electric for the Rest of River cleanup of the Housatonic. About the only thing that can be said with some certainty is that a cleanup doesn't appear to be coming soon unless there is some significant movement.
The nation's highest environmental court, which received GE's appeal last June, ordered the EPA to reconsider its requirement that GE ship sediment removed from the river to an off-site dump (Eagle, January 27). The corporation has argued that as much as $250 million of the $613 million cost of the 13-year project comes from transporting contaminated landfill to a site dedicated to collecting such sediment, a cost that would be dramatically reduced if it could put the site in a location or locations near the river.
The EPA asserted that on-site disposal would not comply with regulations of the Toxic Substances Control Act, with GE countering that the EPA had granted waivers permitting on-site disposal in the past. The environmental board called out the EPA for "seemingly inconsistent statements" on disposal sites. GE, however, has established its own precedent by transporting contaminated sediment from other PCB cleanups, such as the Hudson River, to other sites for disposal, and has not explained why, beyond the fact that it doesn't want to pay for the transportation, those precedents should be ignored in the case of the Housatonic.
Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, told The Eagle that the EPA has been visiting local groups to float the concept of consolidating GE's three proposed Berkshire disposal sites into one (Eagle, January 28). This suggests that the EPA is at least considering reversing its opposition to a Berkshire landfill.
According to Mr. Gray, under this proposal by the EPA, GE would build a larger site on Lane Construction property in Lenox Dale while abandoning proposed sites in Lee and Housatonic. This would limit the possibility of leakage and further contamination to one site, but GE's strictly monetary argument for opposing taking contaminated fill away makes it a tough sell to the Berkshire environmental community. As a trade-off, according to Mr. Gray, the EPA would increase the extent of PCB removal from the river, but that would be a tough sell to GE.
The environmental court supported the arguments of the EPA and environmentalists in some significant ways (Eagle, January 29). It disagreed with GE's contention that the Rest of River cleanup would in some fashion have a negative impact on the river ecosystem and agreed with the EPA's estimates on likely human exposure to PCBs. The board also disputed GE's assertion that a less-intensive cleanup would achieve similar reductions in the presence of PCBs in fish tissue. However, the arguments by environmentalists that the EPA should have proposed a larger-scale cleanup and should treat soils before disposal did not find favor with the environmental court.
The Eagle has endorsed the EPA's Rest of River cleanup as an effective compromise. If that cleanup began today it would be concluded in 2031 — but it won't be beginning today. The environmental court has brought some needed clarity, but without a resolution to the landfill issue a start date could become 2041 or later. It is time to find that resolution.
- 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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