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SHERMAN’S “IN,” WHILE MYSTERY CANDIDATE AWAITS IN WARD 7, plus, IT’S FINALLY TIME FOR PITTSFIELD TO HOLD GE TO ACCOUNTS: REOPEN CONSENT DECREE & HAVE THEM PAY UP

BY DAN VALENTI

This is a campaign year, and in the City of Pittsfield, it promises to be wild, wooly, wet, and wanting. Wild because several would-be incumbents are now lame ducks (Ruberto, Lee, Lothrop), wooly because the hair will fly as campaigns have become more caustic each year, wet because voters will again get hosed, and wanting because there will be no dream candidates (such do not exist).

Thus, the city will end up with an amalgam of the good, the bad, and the ugly from which, once again, it will form a government that will have its highs, lows, and so-so’s. In short, despite the hyperbole we will hear about sea changes and reinvention, life will go on pretty much the same as it is now.

Or will it?

Let the race begin.

New governors can always usher in surprise. If a man like Joe Nichols won the corner office, for example, sound bites would be in the air like locusts in an awry, biblical event. Some councilors, surely, wouldn’t like a Nichols’ ascendancy and will work to scuttle it, and without doubt, the Boring Broadsheet all of a sudden would no longer be the embarrassing mouthpiece of city hall but would begin attacking with or without cause.

The Planet, as it has done, will continue to keep you abreast of who’s in and who’s out. We have a couple of “ins” to report.

Sherman Makes it Unofficially ‘Official’

Councilor-at-Large informed his Facebook pals, and yesterday The Planet, that he’s running for re-election to the citywide post.

“I am very much looking forward to the campaign,” Sherman told The Planet. “I know you are keeping a tally, and you can mark me as ‘in.’”

KEVIN SHERMAN: He's "in."

The Planet welcomes Sherman’s declaration. He has shown himself to be open- minded on issues, forthright about his responsibilities, and responsive to constituents. He has more to learn, as he would admit, and he’s been on his share of the wrong side of issues, but this, too, will change as he grows more in confidence and independence. The learning curve will continue to flatten, as long as he doesn’t forget The Little Guy.

Personally, The Planet has enjoyed our exchanges years with Sherman, which began when he unsuccessfully challenged William “Smitty” Pignatelli in the Democratic primary for state rep several years back. He is affable, willing to listen, can take a punch, and, always in debate, remain reasonable. Now all he needs is The Wayback Machine.

Is Kevin too young to get that?

Ward 7 Mystery Person Waiting in the Wings

The Planet can name the next Ward 7 councilor. We just won’t, for reasons we will keep to ourselves.

When Joe Nichols takes out his papers for mayor, he leaves behind his Ward 7 seat. We have heard several names tossed around for this important seat that brings residents of north Pittsfield to the council table, but the names do not include the person who will run and win this race.

This person has an unbeatable combination of characteristics. They include lighting-quick smarts, a fiendishly punishing work ethic, great institutional skills, heavy private sector experience, and the organizational skills of a general. This person has served honorably in the military, holds a large job for a household-name company, travels throughout the U.S., and loves Pittsfield. This person doesn’t love how complacency has spawned corruption to petrify into the cancerous mass known as “The Pittsfield 100” (call it what you will — The Establishment, the Gay Mafia — it refers to the nature of Shire City power as oligarchic).

How certain is it that this person will be the next Ward 7 councilor? When this person announces her/his candidacy, the city should not bother with the formality of an election. Just give the person the seat, fait accompli. That’s how much this person will be certain to win. Now we can’t tell how we know that, only that we do know that.

Sherman’s Corrects the “GMP” Record

In his brief guvreet with The Planet yesterday, Sherman clarified his position on the proposed DPW land deal at 1644 East St. Both Sherman and The Planet were guests on “Good Morning, Pittsfield,” hosted by ward 6 councilor John Krol. Sherman did the first half hour, and we did the second.

1644 East St.: The Monster that will not die.

During our time with Krol, the question of the 1644 East deal surfaced. We stated our objections to the deal. A council subcommittee vote had recommended approving purchase by the city, 4-1 (Christine Yon voting against). “The street” read the tealeaves and gave the advance word that the full council would approve the purchase, done deal.

Then this website began an 11th hour public discussion of some of the issues involved: PCB contamination, too high an asking price, a multimillion-dollar renovation budget, murky ownerships issues, and more. A fierce public debate followed. When the issue came to a vote, the council had come to its senses. It rejected the purchase 8-3 (Krol, Lothrop, and Peter White still voting to approve).

On “GMP,” Krol said the council did not reject anything. He said the council sent it back to the mayor, implying that it would be brought back to the council again, with the council’s concerns addressed. Krol then said that Sherman had stated as much, again, implying that eventually, the deal would go through.

Sherman disputed this.

“If you check the tape of my discussion with John on “GMP,” Sherman told The Planet, “it was about the fact that the purchase and sale agreement had expired re:1644 East St.  I never said it will or should be brought back during the interview.  We acted in the only way we could. We referred the petition back to the mayor with several recommendations, including exploring the leasing of the property, renegotiating the price, and as we discussed in multiple forums having the agreement contingent upon PCB testing through a 21E evaluation. Ten parts per million of PCB is acceptable by EPA standards. They and the DEP have no records of prior sampling.”

Sherman’s statement is interesting. First, he distances himself from the claim that the deal “will be or should be” brought back. The Planet hopes Sherman opposes this deal, unless the city gets its for dirt cheap with NO (N-O) remedial liabilities on PCBs for taxpayers.

Second is his statement that the EPA and DEP “have no records of prior sampling.” This would seem to contradict claims by the administration. Didn’t DPW chief Bruce Collingwood admit the presence of PCBs in that area? If Sherman’s is correct, it means the administration proposed purchasing a property in what is likely a PCB hot zone without having done ANY testing. We will leave readers to draw their own implications.

PCBs: A Poison that Didn’t Go Away When GE Did;

Is Solution to the ‘Nightmare’ Reopening the Consent Decree?

PCB DAMAGE: The devastating trail of GE poison glows no hotter than it does in Pittsfield. The time has come.

One of the great aspects of this type of news and opinion media platform is the interaction. Today, for example, in response to yesterday’s guest column by environmentalist Bruce Winn, two readers — Dave Martindale and Glenn Heller — made points that deserved to be highlighted.

PCBs could, and should, emerge as a dominant issue in the 2011 campaign. If it doesn’t, it would only suggest that Da Boyz “got to” the candidates and told them, you know, it might be smart not to bring this up. It’s time for Pittsfield to realize it got duped by GE, and that citizens, through their representatives, can do something about it. We shall begin now our campaign calling on We The People to begin putting LOTS OF HEAT on anybody schlepping for votes. Candidates should be pressured to take a public position: Are they in favor of finally ending a toxic “nightmare” (see “Martindale,” below) or are they content with leaving the city a veritable Love Canal?

“Unfortunately, GE has left behind a toxic legacy that we do not really know the extent of.” Martindale writes. “I venture that in years to come this same scenario will surface again and again. GE’s careless handling of PCB has left behind a nightmare that we can only guess as to the actual extent. We continue to downplay and cover up the extent that this pollution plays on the health of our community.”

In response to another reader’s question of why the city of Pittsfield let GE off the hook regarding PCBs, Heller wrote: “GE is not exactly off the hook just yet.
The question is whether anyone wants to do battle with GE.
The Consent Decree can indeed be modified (it’s been modified 10 times thus far), but unless one wants a big court battle, all the parties (Mass. DEP, USEPA, City of Pittsfield, State of CT, GE, etc.) have to consent to any modification and that modification then has to be approved by the federal judge overseeing the case.”

Put these together, and what do you have:

(1)  The City of Pittsfield, as it tries to market itself to the outside world as a great place to live, work, and play, has no idea of how much poison lies in the land inside its perimeters. GE, as Martindale put it “left behind a nightmare.” Until we address this, why would anyone want to relocate there?

(2)  The Consent Decree can be modified. That outstanding fact perhaps contains the method by which Pittsfield can awaken from its chemical nightmare. Sure, modification will be difficult, but as noted, it’s been done multiple times. It can be done now, to force GE to pay, either through remediation or cold cash, for its sins.

(3)  If city government, elected and appointed officials, and the people spoke with one voice and DEMANDED that GE own up to its moral responsibilities to the town it poisoned, reopening the Consent Decree could produce the solution this city deserves. SO, THE PLANET ASKS, WHICH OF THE CANDIDATES WILL BE WILLING TO TAKE THIS ON, AND TAKE THE PLEDGE TO

(4)  REOPEN THE CONCENT DECREE!

16 Responses to “SHERMAN’S “IN,” WHILE MYSTERY CANDIDATE AWAITS IN WARD 7, plus, IT’S FINALLY TIME FOR PITTSFIELD TO HOLD GE TO ACCOUNTS: REOPEN CONSENT DECREE & HAVE THEM PAY UP”

  1. GMHeller
    February 9, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    Mr. Valenti:
    The issue is a simple engineering problem:
    How to remove chemical toxins from a 26-foot deep glacial lake the bottom of which is composed of mud and silt (and the toxins to be removed).
    But the larger problem is one of basic long-term public health.
    The Cancer clusters around the city are clear evidence of that.
    (And one should not be surprised if there is an incidence of miscarriages in the neighborhoods surrounding Silver Lake higher than the state average.)
    If Silver Lake is indeed poisoning the city, does Pittsfield have any real choice in 2011 but to seek a total clean-out of that which is doing the city’s residents real harm?
    The GE / Pittsfield / USEPA / MassDEP / ConnDEP Consent Decree is capable of being modified as long as all the parties agree on the proposed modification.
    But this also means that if any one of the parties, e.g.: GE, does not wish to agree to a modification proposed by, say, Pittsfield, to expand the scope of the Silver Lake remediation, then the only likely legal alternative is for the moving party, Pittsfield, to sue.
    GE historically has always counted on Pittsfield’s public offiicials not having the will to sue nor the stamina to undertake a multi-year court battle nor the bucks to hire the kind of high-powered legal talent that would certainly be necessary to counter GE’s own platinum-plated hired guns.
    GE in the past has also relied on relatively paltry (for GE) cash inducements to get the City to bend to the Company’s will.
    The $10 million business incubator fund set up with GE’s cash and woefully administered by the Mayor and City Council was one such inducement — chump change to buy off an inept city government while GE left the city steeped in a toxic chemical marinade.

    It would be informative to know whether Pittsfield’s residents think the currently proposed cap will actually be enough to seal Silver Lake’s muddy bottom to contain the bulk of the many toxins.
    USEPA seems convinced that it will, but that outlook may also be just bureaucratic inertia and an agency not wanting to have to use up precious resources in lengthy federal court battles over something its bureaucrats already thought was settled.

  2. rick
    February 10, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    one way to eliminate city officials on the issue, in my opinion is to bypass local goverment and have a civil suit issued by the people of pittsfield vs GE…..im sure there are firms out there that would do it….they can sue and add their fees into the judgement. if people werent scared of the pcbs then william stanley park would be thriving. years will only tell what lurks underneath all that dirt and in silver lake…

  3. No Reply
    February 10, 2011 at 9:13 am #

    @rick this is what I was thinking. Our politicians have sold us out on GE. heller is right the city has taken the bird seed of Ge, a few million for poisoning the entire city. Im wondering if a guy like Bruce winn or Tim Grey would comment on Silver lake. But yes, a lawsuite by the residents, the people vs. Ge and get a high-powered firm to take the case for free with half the settlement.

  4. rick
    February 10, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    hey no reply,isnt it sad that the people we get into office to fight for us,become self serving mucks. to think we would have to side step them to get something done says a lot. case in point this site….without dans reports on east street we would be the proud owners of that property. whats the old saying…..fool me once shame on you…………fool me twice shame on me…… same thing going on with GE.

  5. Tim Gray
    February 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    The city signed the consent decree which allowed GE to put a band aid on the horrible mess GE created. There is so much pollution surrounding the plant that still exists. The Housatonic River Initiative (HRI) along with Pittsfield neighbors Citizens for PCB Removal (CPR) fought with GE and Mass DEP to test homes. Ge was forced to test a little more than 300. Over 50%
    needed clean up. Then the testing totally stopped. Do the math! How many homes are in the city? Over 10,000 workers at GE for decades. Free fill on any Sat. from the scrap yard. Along with haulers and builders who used it. How many homes remain contaminated with kids growing up on the properties.

    Hill 78 was actually a 70 foot ravine in the 1930s. GE started filling it in with chemicals, transformers, capacitors and who knows what else. There is no liner and all the contents are exposed to the groundwater of the city. Across from Hill 78 in Brattlebrook Park are wells that the city drilled to get a source of drinking water. As soon as they hit the aquifer it was tested and the project shut down. The original 1988 site assessment of Hill 78 said there were PCBs at 120,000 PPM. Other chemicals like solvents and even dioxin were reported which is more toxic than PCBs.

    As GE was famous for burying barrels we still believe that there
    remains many undiscovered sites. The Eagle never covered this but we trained a video camera on GE when they started a project by the power lines on Newell Street near the river. We had told EPA and DEP that there was a huge barrell field. We knew this from interviews we have conducted. with ex GE workers. GE was only going to cap the site( consent decree again). Within a few hours we have footage of GE digging up the first barrels. Soon one of the tops popped open and chemicals started oozing out. We gave the video to the press and it went around New England and GE was then forced to dig them up. Hundreds of barrells and thousands of capacitiors!

    In the depositions during the consent decree, Gerry Doyle’s father stated that the city accepted at least six tractor trailer loads of contaminated material every day during the days when Pittsfield had a dump ( softball complex and business park). I have been told he dump was open for decades.. Another toxic mess.

    PCB plumes are underground at several locations. They have been pumping over a decade. The old Grossmans building
    is saturated around the foundation. Across the street the homes have recordable levels of PCBs that come up in their floor drains.
    The plan to cap Silver Lake is very sad. This chemical source should have been totally cleaned before starting the river. We continue the battle and 2012 will be twenty years fighting GE and the Pittsfield for HRI.
    WE have pushed the Mass Dept of Public health to do health studies only to be ignored. We did get them to test blood samples along the river corridor. If you go to http://www.housatonicriver.org. Scroll down you will see the findings of Dr Carpenter on PCBs and the results of the small amount of blood samples.
    We tested the air in 17 homes around the GE plant and got PCB 1260 air readings in every house.

    GE should never be let off the hook as we will be finding problems way into the future. How very sad.

    Tim Gray

  6. rick
    February 10, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    when GE signed of on the consent decree and set up the 1mill a year “chump change” account, then hopped into their lear jets and flew away……who were the chumps????. they must have laughed all the way home. i said all those years back that this was never going to go away…..GE they bring good things to life.

  7. Tim Gray
    February 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    Absolutely right Rick!

    Tim Gray

  8. Bruce Winn
    February 11, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    As politicians begin asking for our votes, we need to ask them where they stand on these issues that affect both our health and our economy. Environmental issues have taken a back seat for too long. Surveys tell us that most people visit the Berkshires for its scenic beauty and natural habitats. We need to clean up and protect these resources, and we need to think about their long-term health, not just what they’ll look like next season.

    We also have to remember that there are other players besides EPA and GE. It’s our elected officials and their appointees at all levels of government who have let this happen to our river and floodplain. Conservation Commissions refused to stand up for the wetlands they were charged with protecting. State representatives felt more allegiance to the political machine than to the people they represent. A former mayor pulled the rug out from under us from behind closed doors.

    We also have to remember that this goes beyond just the river, and also beyond just PCBs. One of the triggers for the re-emergence of this issue in the news was the proposed purchase of the contaminated site on East Street for a city garage. The site is also endangered species habitat. BEAT is watching this issue, and we intend to make it another front in the battle should proposed development at that site be inappropriate (piles of road salt are inappropriate). We all need to become more aware of environmental issues in our communities. They’re all inter-related. What seems like a small issue now, can become a very important issue down the road, and its much easier to deal with environmental issues before they get very far down that road. Let’s make sure that the people we elect at all levels of government understand that environmental issues are important to us.

  9. rick
    February 12, 2011 at 3:46 am #

    bruce, up untill the last 15….or 20 yrs, our “politicians” were comprised of either bar owners or bar flies, so the issue of pcbs were a bit over their heads, and look what happened. this issue,if reopened should be given to an outside source that understands it.after all thes yrs theres firms that deal with just this issue.

    • danvalenti
      February 12, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

      TRUE
      We had “bar politics” in the city. Give Ruberto credit in that respect. You may or may not like WHAT he’s done, but he’s done some things and he a sharp man, a former CEO. The pols of which you speak, rick, truly were in way over their heads. GE snookered them and with them, the city.

  10. rick
    February 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    i didnt like or dislike the guy, but that sleezball move with the east street property has me leaning towards dislike. 2 plus years looking at at only that piece of property??? geeze dan, dont have to be columbo to figure out were his loyalties lie!!! so whatever good he did ,he erased with that. thats my take on it.

    • danvalenti
      February 12, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

      Understood. Appreciate your position.

  11. rick
    February 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    dan,by the way, the snookering was more like pittsfield brought a knife to a gun fight…………………..

    • danvalenti
      February 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

      rick
      Check our today’s PLANET.

  12. danvalenti
    February 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    The Planet is among the leading voices calling for the reopening of the agreement. We must pressure the politicians, relentlessly, this campaign season.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Who consented to this decree? | BEAT's Blog - February 13, 2011

    [...] Berkshire County with everything related to GE and the cleanup.  Recently there have been some calls to reopen the consent decree on behalf of those of us who favor a real cleanup of PCBs and who aren’t afraid of GE’s [...]