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PROPOSED SITE FOR DPW IS LACED WITH PROBLEMS, PCBs, SO WHY IS CITY HOT TO TROT ON THIS TURKEY? COULD IT BE … POLITICS? plus, ELECTION INs and OUTs.

BY DAN VALENTI

Lost in all the early election talk yesterday (there’s more later in this post) was the story of PCBs on the site the city of Pittsfield wants to buy to relocate the DPW.

THE CITY MUST NOT BUY THIS PROPERTY!

A Berkshire County Realtor listed the building for $1.3 million. It's still an overpriced clunker at $875,000. Worth? Worthless.

The Planet has talked to several former employees of GE’s defunct Power Transformer Department who spoke of PCB dumping on the parcel now called 1644 East St. Are these reports true? Only scientific testing will reveal if the land was a prime dumping site.

DPW Chief Bruce Collingwood has already admitted to traces of PCB having been found on the site. Do traces cover up saturations?

The Price is Wrong

General Electric used PCBs legally, but they abandoned the city to its wastes when the circus left town with 14,000 jobs. The GE Consent Agreement won the city pennies on the dollar, and GE essentially escaped off the hook in terms of its liabilities — and more importantly, its responsibilities — to the city of Pittsfield. PCBs have damaged the market value of every home in the city, as folks have learn when trying to sell their Pittsfield property.

The City of Pittsfield, though, doesn’t seem to be concerned. Most people would try to unload PCB property. Pittsfield, it appears, wants to buy it. Fine. It would put the city in the driver’s seat in negotiating a price for the 11 acres and building at the East Street location. Right? This is Pittsfield. Come on, now.

The city's not even sure the plows will fit through the garage doors!

An entity called 1644 East Street LLC bought the site at a foreclosure sale from Berkshire Bank and an entity called Taconic Prop. Inc. The bank assumed control when the previous owner, who ran a trucking business there, got into trouble. Who is behind 1644 East Street LLC? Could it be someone with “the right” political connections?

On March 23, 2007, 1644 East Street LLC paid $777,000 for the property at a time when real estate prices, even in Pittsfield, were rising and sales were brisk. You remember the good old days of buying properties, flipping them, and pocketing some easy money.

Yon: Voted correctly on subcommittee. Don't buy the building.

Sources say the person behind “1644 East Street LLC” discovered the investment wasn’t that great. The property abuts 75 acres of protected wetlands, severely limiting development. PCBs were also discovered. The market went south. Thus, the property lists in a depressed market, the site has wetland restrictions, the new owner will face a potentially ruinous PCB cleanup effort, and the price is inflated? Who would want to buy under such conditions?

Uh, yeah. The City of Pittsfield. File it under “H” for “How stupid can you get”? Or does a smelly political deal explain what’s going on?

The DPW Low-down Building Blues

Why would the city be interested? It says because it needs a new DPW yard. The Planet agrees

Dig, cause it's getting piled up pretty deep over 1644 East St.

with that much. The present West Housatonic facility is a ruin, although that being said, would reconstruction and repair there be a more responsible fiscal choice? There’s also the 44,000 sq. ft. former Berkshire Trolley Depot on East Street near Newell that could be available for free via foreclosure or eminent domain.

Does the city’s interest in 1644 East St. at a ruinous price pass the smell test?

Pissing on the People

The city council’s Public Works and Utilities Committee voted 4-1 (Ward, Lothrop, White, and Krol in favor, with Yon the lone dissenter) to recommend Pittsfield spend $875,000 to buy the property. This is the wrong vote. Pittsfield should stay away from the land until:

* It clears up its PCB liability

* It reveals who the owner of 1644 East St. is, and if there are any political connections such as campaign donations.

* It can get the property for far less than $875,000. It’s assessed value for tax purposes is $488,600. In short, the city is prepared to offer $386,400 — a whopping 44.16% ABOVE assessment — for what Collingwood has admitted is a polluted property in a depressed market. Collingwood also estimates that taxpayers would have to pump $3.3 million into the site to get it ready for DPW use.

What is the city thinking?

What of the council’s supposed function as fiscal watchdogs?

It looks as if our “watchdogs” are about to mistake We The People for a fire hydrant. The yellow snow won’t be from lemonade or orange juice. Piss city, baby. Ward, Krol, White, and Lothrop: When you get to the next council meeting, tell your colleagues, “Never mind. We made a mistake. Don’t buy this lemon.

Another factor is the existing structure on the site now. The Eagle incorrectly stated the building is 18,000 sq. ft. (compared to the 13,000 sq. ft. of the present DPW building). They are wrong. The deed (CB 1018 census tract 901000 Property ID 2727744 APN L 110001101, map reference M:L11 B:0001 L:101) lists the building at 15,600 sq. ft.

The structure was built in 1989. It’s already falling apart, indicating it was slapped up without much care to quality. The building is leaking water from the roof into and around the skylights. There are likely other problems. Moreover, the city even doesn’t know of the snowplows will fit through the buildings door! Nonetheless, the subcommittee voted to recommend purchase at an inflated price, save Yon.

The Planet recommends that all action in this purchase be halted until city councilors can tour the building and site, bringing white gloves and microscopes. Previous tours “were of the dog-and-pony variety, according to an office holder who took one.

Inflated price tag, structural problems, PCB concerns, and wetland challenges. There’s something fishy going on with this.

Councilors, this is an election year. Unless you get it for a song, do not recommend buying this property.

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Election Connection: Connell is in for Ward 4

We shall be playing “ins” and “outs” from now until August, when the city clerk certifies names for the September primary ballot. We have a new official “in” to report today.

Chris Connell, runnerup to Mike Ward in the Ward 4 race in 2009, has told The Planet he’s onboard for this year.

THis is CHRIS CONNELL, but not the CHRIS CONNELL who will be running in Ward 4.

“I’m in,” Connell tells The Planet. “My family has lived in Ward 4 for 32 years, and my wife and I moved back here in late 2002. So my heart, so to speak, is in this ward. I feel my extensive business background … has given me different ideas and perspective on how situations can be handled in Pittsfield.”

Connell praised Ward’s representation of Ward 4: “If I’m lucky enough to get elected, I can only hope that I can accomplish as much as he has in his time on the council. I have had my differences with him, especially when I ran against him in 2009, but he was always concerned wit the people of Pittsfield.” Connell says he shares that  concern.

In an interview yesterday, Ward 6 councilor John Krol confirmed he will be running again in Ward 6, barring some “unforseen” development that would lead him to reassess. We take that as “in” and put the qualifier down to Krol’s overly cautious approach to the land of commital.

The Scoreboard so far:

INS: Joe Nichols (mayor); Chris Connell (Ward 4); John Krol (Ward 6); Jeff Ferrin (at large or school committee)

OUTS: Jimmy Ruberto (mayor), Gerry Lee (at large), Mike Ward (Ward 4), Jonathan Lothrop (Ward 5), Terry Kinnas (mayor or council), Bill Hines (mayor).

———————————————————

With that, we publish this poetry from THE STOOLEY, a gadabout who shall have much more to say this campaign season. THE STOOLEY is a person of connection, who writes for The Planet without fear of the real name being revealed. THE STOOLEY is on the inside of much of what comes down. Readers would be shocked to learn just how far inside THE STOOLEY is. How delightful to have this person in our employ.

“WHAT WE SAY TO THE CANDIDATES”

by The Stooley

The picture is fleeting. The weather sleeting.

But candidates will a come, a greeting.

As the steams murmurs, so we pass.

Heaven can heaven more annex;

We listen, assess, and we will kick their ass.

14 Responses to “PROPOSED SITE FOR DPW IS LACED WITH PROBLEMS, PCBs, SO WHY IS CITY HOT TO TROT ON THIS TURKEY? COULD IT BE … POLITICS? plus, ELECTION INs and OUTs.”

  1. Still wondering
    January 25, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    Any guesses about who owns the parcel on outer East St? How about Angelo?

  2. OLD ONE
    January 25, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Dan, just a reminder, Pittsfield taxpayers are still keeping the old DPW garage.

    Questions
    1. How many commercial property tax dollars are being lost per year?
    2. What will the maintenance cost be for each year of the new and old buildings?
    3. DPW head Collingwood (sp) said it is more centrally located. Vehicle cost per mile information was never given to Council. Like, if it mattered. I believe Berkshire Bank owns the property., registry of deeds has the info.

    • Rick Wide
      January 25, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

      The column raises some good questions. There seems to be much too much of a rush for this to happen. I would urge the council to look into the fissures and cracks. They will be surprised what they see. Valenti is on to something here.

  3. Jonathan Melle
    January 25, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    U.S. Senator John Kerry & Governor Deval Patrick visited Pittsfield yesterday (1/24/2011). How come Dan Valenti did not have any coverage of this political event? I was looking forward to Valenti giving his perspective.

    Do you think Governor Deval Patrick will give Mayor Jimmy Ruberto a plum job next year? That is my prediction.

    GE’s consent decree is corrupt. The caps only last a finite amount of time. After the PCBs are capped, they have to be re-capped, and re-capped, and re-capped… Who is going to pay for the re-cappings? Will Pittsfield inevitably become a Superfund site.

    I wonder what President Barack Obama is going to say during the State of the Union address later tonight (1/25/2011)? Is this the beginning of the end for a probable one-termer? Or, will Obama come across as a strong leader who will secure a second term in 2012?

    • Jonathan Melle
      January 25, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

      I watched Obama’s State of the Union address and I believe the president was disingenous about the federal government’s role in creating jobs, budgeting via deficits, and support of labor in America. When the federal government bailed out Wall Street during the credit crisis, Wall Street received over 90% of the trillions of dollars in taxpayer money. Less than 10% of the bail out dollars went to Main Street. Policies have consequences, and the outcome is high unemployment rates with a diminishing middle class.

  4. San Simeon
    January 26, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    Glad valenti didn’t waste time on the phony press conference at GD. The “500 jobs” will actually mean only 20 physical people/jobs actually locating to Pittsfield. they will be short-term for the length of the contract, unless the contract is cancelled or amended, and none of the new hires will be from pittsfield. i work at GD and know the HR people. None of the applications so far have come from pittsfield.

    • seems odd
      January 26, 2011 at 9:58 am #

      San,

      Your comment seems odd in so much that it contradicts exactly what is being said publicly.

      Who, specifically, do you accuse of lying?

  5. Still wondering
    January 26, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    I like the “cat is out of the bag” quote in today’s Eagle story. It directly implies that this blog site was responsible for the property not being purchased by the city. Great work Dan!

  6. Mike
    January 26, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    That was an unfortunate idiom choice by Councilor Lothrop, as if some secret were revealed.

  7. danvalenti
    January 26, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    Lothrop’s comment said it all. He said they had the deal sealed, but then “the cat” escaped from the bag. In other words, he revealed this deal for what it was: a bag job on the city of Pittsfield. Lothrop, Krol, and White were OK with that. Ward, Yon, Capitanio, Nichols, Lee, Marchetti, Sherman, and Mazzeo sided with The Planet for The People.

    • Dee
      January 26, 2011 at 11:33 am #

      And yet Mr. Barrett was on the radio just a few hours ago insisting the Pittsfield HAD TO BUY THIS SITE. Guess we now know where the strong arm pressure is coming from. At this point I don’t think Mayor Ruberto cares one way or another. It’s Barrett’s deal.

      That being said, I am still very curious how he is going to explain spending approximately 550,000 in snow removal after only about six weeks of winter. Any capital expenditures (like plows or sanders) would need council approval, yet he eluded to these items the last time he went before the council. Sounds like someone is still playing fast and loose with other people’s money. But he is very quick to pat himself on the back about how the roads are so clean.

  8. Still wondering
    January 26, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Krol has some ‘splaining to do!

  9. Joe Pinhead
    January 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    I dont recall seeing any mention of this entire incident on the facebook page of either Krol or White. Krol wanted it because Johnnie B told him to. Find it intresting that during the budget hearings Collingwood stated that the enviromenta monitoring from the dump was being stopped due to lack of funding, the State wouldnt do anything due to lack of enforcement funds on their part. And not a singe Councilor was able to connect the dots? Maybe just maybe the monitoring was stopped so the site would appear cleaner than it actually is? Well on paper anyways.

  10. GMHeller
    January 27, 2011 at 4:13 am #

    Mr. Valenti:
    For insight into just how expensive, time consuming, and the real liabilities involved in rehabilitating a PCB-contaminated piece of land, you might want to reference the former New England Log Homes site on Bridge Street in Great Barrington where literally for decades now the town has been trying to work out a plan with the state DEP and other parties over remediation.
    The whole thing has been a nightmare of paperwork, government approvals, much of it with the goal of avoiding liability.
    Pittsfield is likely opening-up itself (and its taxpayers) to being fully liable for cleanup costs (and even public health liabilities if there turn out to be any underground chemical plumes) if the city acquires the contaminated East Street property.
    This thing could end up costing Pittsfield’s residents literally millions depending on the full extent of the underground chemical contamination (which only a series of test wells dug around the site can fully and accurately determine).
    The cost of consultants alone will be a windfall to those politically connected firms which will of course need to be hired to make recommendations regarding remediation.
    Buyer Beware!
    This is a scandal in the making, and thank you, Mr. Valenti, for breaking the story and delving into that which The Berkshire Eagle refuses to investigate.