BY DAN VALENTI
A disgruntled member of 1Berkshires, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Planet of what the source called a “sneaking suspicion” the group was essentially created as a shell organization to fight the PR wars for GE regarding the cleanup of PCBs in Pittsfield and downstream, especially South County.
The official stressed he/she was only speaking for him/herself, but the source said in conversations with other members of 1Berkshires, the impression is one of being “hoodwinked.” The source wouldn’t detail the comments beyond that.
The admission, offered as informed opinion, would seem to connect the mysterious dots of the sudden creation of a seemingly superfluous organization that’s floundered since April 2010, doesn’t have a full-time CEO, and according to David Scribner’s bylined piece in the Berkshire Record, has accepted $300,000 of GE money. The Planet republishes Scribner’s article in full at the end of this column.
A Growing Discontent
One can sense it: There is a growing discontent in Pittsfield and Berkshire County with the presence of countless millions of pounds of PCBs — and many other toxins — dumped into our soil and water by GE. The consent agreement struck between the company, the city, and the environmental agencies allowed GE to skip town, leaving Pittsfield with a few million dollars and a countless millions of pounds of toxins, still there, embedded in river banks, backyards, playgrounds, schoolyards, wetland bottoms, and soil.
The spark for this new interest was Pittsfield’s attempted purchased of what turned out to be PCB-laden property at 1644 East St. The city wanted to relocate its DPW garages and offices there. Aggressive media coverage, including postings at The Planet, caused the city council to reject Mayor Jimmy Ruberto’s plan. Ruberto has since said the project is dead. To prove it, he is looking to transfer the $800,000 borrowed for the 1644 East St. purchase and use it for the airport expansion process.
As Tim Gray of the Housatonic River Initiative pointed out yesterday on The Planet, a sample survey of several hundred Pittsfield homes revealed half of them were PCB- contaminated. Gray also posted shocking details of other pollution the company buried at Hill 78 and near high-tension lines in the Newell Street area.
The winter of chemical disaffection deepened revelations concerning 1Berkshire, a composite group of local “Who’s Who” types created in April 2010. The Planet’s source, if the information is credible, suggests that some of those who joined in forming the group with good intentions now may be feeling duped.
What is, and Who Are, 1Berkshire?
What is 1Berkshire? We go to the “official-ese” of the organization’s debut press release, defining its identity, from April 2010.
After telling us that “Berkshire County leaders believe in a strong, vibrant future for the region,” (like the rest of us do not want a “stong, vibrant future”) the release says: “The boards of directors of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Creative Economy Council, Berkshire Economic Development Corporation, and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau announce today the creation of a formal, strategic partnership among the four organizations. This alliance, informally known as 1Berkshire, strives for intelligent, sustainable growth to create prosperity for every citizen of the Berkshires.”
Who is involved? From the press release:
“The project is chaired by Michael Daly, President & CEO of Berkshire Bank and Chair of 1Berkshire, together with Roger O. Goldman, managing director of the Berkshire Opportunity Fund and 1Berkshire’s volunteer Acting CEO. Daly and Goldman, are joined by steering committee volunteers, C. Jeffrey Cook, of Cohen Kinne Valicenti & Cook LLP, Laurie Norton Moffatt, Director/CEO of Norman Rockwell Museum and Joseph Thompson, Director/CEO of MASS MoCA.”
Something Does Not Compute. That Something is PCBs
The Planet — particularly in its coverage of Pittsfield’s failure in the CEDS (Community Economic Development Strategy) process (its last successful project came in 2001) — has listed and discussed the alphabet soup of the many former “strategic alliances” and organizations that were supposed to do exactly what this one touts.
They were to created economic health, in short, lots of jobs. As it’s done in these parts, Berkshire “strategic alliances” and economic supergroups usually create two jobs: a con job and a snow job. Oh, and they also create a tiny handful of six-figure jobs with little accountability for results for the persons who land the plums of leadership. Tough work, but somebody’s got to do it.
On cue, as reported by Andy McKeever in iBerkshires.com on Feb. 2, the group, nearly a year after its founding, is now “looking for a leader.” In other words, it has taken 1Berkshire just shy of 10 months to settle on a CEO. The current CEO, Paul Haklisch, told iBerkshires that he “is not interested in taking [the job] on full time.” That’s not inspiring. The current top dog wants out. Something’s not computing here.
That something appears to be PCBs. One of 1Berkshire’s star projects is to push for a “low impact” cleanup of the Housatonic River (nothing is mentioned about Pittsfield land that is drenched with toxins).
Scribner reported that 1Berkshires has taken $300,000 from GE. Yes, that’s the “conflict of interest” alarm flashing “red alert.”
It’s likely, though for the record unconfirmed, that this GE money is the reason for Haklisch not being interested in a full-time position. Does he sense a set-up? Scriber reports that “an official” from Berkshire Creative told him that “GE has hinted at millions more.” Ask yourself: Why would GE fund this group for $300,000 and maybe “millions more”?
Pittsfield Politicians: Go on the Record, Now!
In light of these revelations, The Planet calls upon every city councilor in Pittsfield, as well as Mayor Ruberto, to take a position on the situation at 1Berkshire as well as PCBs. Are they content to leave the city in its poisoned state or will they join the growing effort at pushing for GE to make good?
None of the usual hemming and hawing, my Right Honorable Good Friends. We want to know where you stand. We urge everyone reading this post to send a copy to your representatives, asking them to take a position on a life-and-death issue.
If they won’t stand up for citizens, they will be replaced in the November elections. Indeed, the electorate must press ALL candidates for their position on the PCB/Toxin issue. Only the men and women with the courage to stand up to the corporate Goliath deserve to lead the community in 2012 and beyond.
Taking the Law into Your Own Hands
The citizens of Cairo, Egypt this week gave the world, and the citizens of Berkshire County, a lesson in democracy. They showed the Power of We The People. It can happen here.
If our officials continue to cozy up to the special interests, if they fail in their sworn duty to protect their constituents, then the citizens of Pittsfield, joining with other communities, should file suit against GE. There’s successful precedent. In the early 2000s, the citizens of Anniston, Ala., filed suit against Monsanto. On Jan. 1, 2002, the Washington Post ran an article headlined, “Monsanto Hid Decades of Pollution.” The article uses court documents in its report, taken from the case of Owens v. Monsanto, 96-CV-440 (N.D. Ala.). That case settled for $43 million. This won’t pay for the cleanup, but it helped Anniston. A similar action might help Pittsfield, which could use another $43 million or so … though not necessarily.
In another Anniston case, it looked like the citizens would win, until The Suits snookered a deal:
“After decades of polluting the people of Anniston, Alabama with some of the highest levels of carcinogenic PCBs on Earth, Monsanto was losing a large, citizen lawsuit in state court — one in a series of suits aimed at the company over its conduct. The state judge in the case seemed all but certain to order a far-reaching cleanup likely to cost the company several hundred million dollars.
“However, a “partial” consent decree cleanup agreement had been quietly negotiated between the US EPA and Monsanto for months without the involvement or knowledge of the contaminated community. The term “partial” indicates that the consent decree merely seeks a study of the contamination, not an actual cleanup.” (from www.mindfully.org/GE/People-v-Monsanto.htm the full document is at this address).
Here’s coverage from the Dow Jones News Wires following the Anniston lawsuit. This excerpt is from a Jan. 2, 2002 article by Desiree J. Hanford:
ST. LOUIS — Shares of Monsanto Co. (MON) are down nearly 3% Wednesday after a Washington Post article said the company discharged toxic waste into a creek and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs in open-pit landfills in an Alabama town.
The Tuesday article said Monsanto knew PCBs were harmful but hid the dumping, now banned, into landfills in Anniston, Ala., and routinely discharging toxic waste into a west Anniston creek. A lawsuit by 3,600 plaintiffs, or one of every nine Anniston residents, is scheduled for trial Monday.
The newspaper said Monsanto documents, some marked “Confidential: Read and Destroy,” were obtained from plaintiffs’ attorneys and the Environmental Working Group. Monsanto and Solutia Inc. (SOI), its chemical spinoff, have spent $40 million on cleanup efforts and $80 million on legal settlements, the paper said.
Monsanto found out in 1966 that fish submerged in the creek resurfaced within 10 seconds, shedding skin and spurting blood, but the company didn’t tell anyone, the newspaper said. Studies conducted in following years showed harmful effects of PCBs but the company, while knowing of the studies, opted not to take action, the article said. Even the company’s own tests on PCBs weren’t good.
“”[F]ish submerged in the creek resurfaced within 10 seconds, shedding skin and spurting blood” — Pittsfield officials, do you really want to leave the city infected with PCBs? Think about it, long and hard.
And discontented members of 1Berkshire: Look into this more deeply. Please make sure you aren’t being used.
APPENDIX ONE, DAVID SCRIBNER’S BERKSHIRE RECORD STORY FROM THIS WEEK: (the italics are The Planet’s; they were not part of the article as published. We insert them for emphasis):
By David Scribner
STOCKBRIDGE – When 1Berkshire, a consortium of four countywide development agencies, was formed last April, it described itself in lofty language – “a strategic alliance,” “a single point of service” – offering seamless access to Berkshire resources for business development.
From the start it was an odd coupling: Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Economic Development Corp., Berkshire Visitors Bureau, and Berkshire Creative Economy Council. Plus, it needed a lot of money to fulfill a mission yet to be defined:$1 million from businesses, banks, organizations.
The marriage of these agencies occurred in April. It doesn’t have a Web site; it’s record of achievements obscure. 1Berkshire is still on honeymoon. Or is it? In a FaceBook campaign, 1Berkshire, it seems, has found a calling, promoting a “coalition” it created named “Smart River Clean-up.”
Smart River Cleanup urges the Environmental Protection Agency to avoid any dredging of carcinogenic PCBs from the Housatonic River as the federal agency deliberates on what method of environmental remediation to order the General Electric Company to undertake. At issue is the contamination present in river sediment and flood plain south of Pittsfield, especially where dams caused highly contaminated sediment to accumulate, like Woods Pond in Lenoxdale and Rising Pond in Housatonic.
For 40 years, GE dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into the river from its Pittsfield manufacturing facility. Instead, 1Berkshire demands a “low-impact, middle of the road approach” that preserves “existing ecological and recreational resources of the river.” By EPA order, fish and wildlife from the river cannot be eaten, nor is the river recommended for swimming due to the contamination.
The lower the impact of the cleanup, the less expensive for General Electric the cleanup will be. The savings could be considerable, in the many millions of dollars. The language it uses to diminish the health risks of PCBs is reminiscent of the arguments put forth by General Electric.
What 1Berkshire didn’t mention was that it has received a $300,000 pledge from GE, and according to a Berkshire Creative official, GE has hinted at millions more, even though General Electric no longer has business operations in the Berkshires.
Its legacy is at the bottom of the river. Norman Rockwell Museum Executive Director Laurie Norton Moffatt, a founder of 1Berkshire, defends the Smart Cleanup Coalition’s lobbying effort.
“I am personally opposed to any dredging,” she said. “We need to take the middle ground. All we are asking for is more time and more information so that we can have a beautiful environment, a clean environment, an untrammeled environment upon which our tourism depends and is essential. We need to find an alternative to dredging. We destroyed the river once. We don’t need to do it twice. Science will reveal a better solution.”
In a Facebook response to Housatonic River Initiative founder and environmental activist Tim Gray, Smart Cleanup responds — the identity of the responder is not revealed, nor is the membership of Smart Cleanup — that it denies that it has received GE funds. Not directly. Through its parent. The revelation of GE funding and the advocacy of Smart Cleanup by 1Berkshire, taken apparently without a vote of all of its partners, has riled some of the leaders. [The Planet finds it a reasonable assumption, though it is not officially confirmed for the record, that current CEO, Paul Haklisch, is one of these officials. We cite as evidence his disinterest in being the front man].
“There was no board approval of this position on the river,” fumed one Berkshire Creative official. “I wonder -many of us wonder – who is calling the shots. There is definitely a concern about lack of transparency. We are getting sucked into a political agenda where we don’t belong.”
THAT’S ALL FOLKS. SEE YOU MONDAY, FOR TOMORROW US SUNDAY, AND THAT’S THE PLANET’S DAY OF REST. LOVE TO ALL.