BY DAN VALENTI
Quake a Reminder for All of Us
First, The Planet has to say a word about the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and resultant tsunami that has devastated northern Japan. The scope of this tragedy cannot be comprehended, except by metaphor. In the early moments after such an event, it is impossible to get a clear picture. Words are not equal to the task, nor is film.
The most compelling analogy we found in our reading and viewing: the quake released an amount of energy that could power the entire needs of the United States for a month. In other words, if you took all that energy — from every light bulb, power plant, car, machine, etc. used in 30 days in all 50 states — and could expend it all in ten minutes, with the first 75% of it in the first minute, that’s what it would feel like.
‘Be Not Anxious for Your Life’
We shall leave it to the world media to cover this sobering story, leaving a final thought: “It’s over in a flash.” Whether the end comes in the next second via an earthquake or decades from now due to natural causes from old age, no one gets out of here alive. Hearses, as the pithy adage goes, do not come equipped with luggage racks. We must do our living here and now.
To lead a fulfilled life, one must also do one more thing: wake up to the moment.
Past and future are abstractions, the first that which was, the second that which will or might be. We have now, always now. “Now” is the reason not to wait, not to delay, not to fear, not to hesitate, not to worry what others are thinking, not to hold back. “Now” is the reason to risk, dare, investigate, enjoy, and otherwise be happy.
Is happiness possible in this veil of tears? We won’t tackle that thorn bush in a couple hundred words. The Planet will share our personal definition of happiness: to engage one’s talents fully along the lines of excellence.
God be with the people of Japan and any other people or creatures affected by this tragedy.
Nichols Wastes No Time: Urges Full Clean-up for PCBS and Removal of Hill 78
Yesterday, The Planet issued its challenge to the two declared candidates for mayor (keeping in mind that no one is officially running until certification by city hall; that won’t come until August). We challenged Ward 7 councilor Joe Nichols and councilor at large Peter Marchetti to state simply and clearly there positions on three issues:
1. Addressing the PCBs in the Housatonic River and in elsewhere in Pittsfield
2. Hill 78
3. $331 million unfunded liabilities
Nichols was the first to rise to the occasion. Here is Mr. Nichols’ response:
1. I believe the PCBs should be removed from the river and everywhere else in Pittsfield at GE’s expense, not the taxpayers’ expense.
2. Hill 78 should be moved by GE away from Pittsfield. Until it is, the school should be closed with the children moved to a safer location. Why have they not moved the children already? This is unforgivable.
3. I will address the unfunded liability as mayor. Unfunded pensions no longer exist for the private sector, and they should not exist at all as they are unsustainable. We need to put a halt on them. [One solution is to] grandfather those who have them but stop taking on anymore so that the liability begins decreasing from that point forward. Certain measures must be taken to begin from scratch with our public work force and the negotiations, which take place in a completely irresponsible manner. What were they thinking?
We thank Nichols for his prompt reply. We await Marchetti’s response. A
s for Nichols’ message, The Planet urges him to define “certain measures” that “must be taken” regarding public employees. Can he be specific about what that means?
Would he also define what he means when he says “negotiations … take place in a completely irresponsible manner.” How so? Which ones? What would he do differently?
Remainder of Council Term Can be Boom or Bust for Nichols, Marchetti
The Planet welcomes Marchetti and Nichols into the race and hope they remain as candidates. Each is giving up incumbency and taking a large political risk. That is to be admired.
Marchetti possesses land-locked talent and up-to-now hidden ability. The Planet had hoped to see more from him from the get go. For whatever reason, Marchetti has been afraid to be his own man. Perhaps a mayoral bid is exactly what he needs to shed his straightjacket of blandness and pursue the office with fire and independence. Marchetti has a mix in the tool kit well-suited for the job: understands fiances, is sincere in his love of the city, and so forth.
The Planet advises him to get more “blue collar,” that is, start connecting more with average people by dropping the robotic support every time Jim Ruberto sneezes. The recent vote to expand the mayor’s office, costing taxpayers $15,000, was the wrong move. Only Marchetti knows what he feels deep in his heart on the issue, but The Planet suspects he knows as much.
Marchetti needs to show more than ever that he is not Ruberto Lite. It’s too soon to lose a race, certainly, but his comment to the Boring Broadsheet that his views match Ruberto’s was stepping in it big time. It was a HOmer Simpson, “Duh-oh!” That line is going to give opponents good bulletin-board material.
Perhaps the most important determinant for both Marchetti and Nichols in the upcoming campaign will be their time in front of the cameras at council meetings. If Marchetti can show more fire and independence and Nichols more substance and polish, each will use the time well.
The Man from Mensa Will Be Running
On another campaign-related front, The Planet has learned from reliable sources that former Ward 4 city councilor Chuck Vincelette is seriously considering an at-large bid. The Man from Mensa hasn’t decided with certainty, but if The Planet were laying odds, we say that he’s in the race.
The Planet would love to see Vincelette back in the fray. We enjoyed our dealings with him, agree or disagree, mainly for two reasons: his intelligence and his reasonableness. We and The Man often engaged in debate, and he was always (a word we rarely use) amenable to positions backed by reason and logic. In other words, when we criticized, he didn’t react as too many muscle-headed Pittsfield pols do, by shrinking their underwear and interpreting it as a personal attack.
With Lee retiring and Marchetti seeking the corner office, the at-large field needs this type of elder statesman, who brings wisdom, counsel, a solid track record, and deep institutional knowledge to the table. He will be tough to beat.
Nuciforo Opposed Hill 78 Six Years Ago
Regarding our discussions of the 5.5 acre, 45-feet-tall abomination that is Hill 78, one of our correspondents made a fair point. This Agent Orange Julius writes:
After reading the article in today’s Berkshire Eagle about PCBs and seeing the lack of leadership shown by our state and federal legislators, I was reminded that on Friday, Nov. 18, 2005, then State Senator Andrea Nuciforo Jr. called for Hill 78 to be cleared.
This led to an unfavorable “in brief” editorial from the Eagle and unfavorable reactions from the mayor and other political leaders. It looks like a interesting year in local politics.
Let the record show that Agent OJ is correct. Here is the Boring Broadsheet’s article. It was written by our good friend Jack Dew, now down south in law school, whose great talents made the BB much less boring and much more of a newspaper back then:
Sen. wants Hill 78 cleared / Nuciforo troubled by PCB dump
By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff Berkshire Eagle
Friday, November 18, 2005
PITTSFIELD — State Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. yesterday called for the removal of a toxic landfill that sits next to a city elementary school. He is the first elected official to seek the elimination of the controversial site.
Nuciforo said state and federal regulators should work with General Electric to remove the dump known as Hill 78, where PCB-tainted soil and debris from the dredged Housatonic River and the polluted GE plant are being consolidated.
The 5.6-acre landfill sits about 50 feet from Allendale Elementary School and has been met with growing concern from the school community and nearby residents.
“I don’t think it will be easy, and I’m sure that GE will resist,” said Nuciforo, D-Pittsfield, in a telephone interview. “But shame on us if we don’t take aggressive steps to remove a toxic mess that sits in a 38-foot mound, 50 feet from an elementary school. I think it is incumbent on us as elected officials and public officials to urge GE to do the right thing.”
Removing the dump, however, could mean reopening the hard-fought settlement that requires GE and EPA to share the costs of cleaning up contamination from Pittsfield and the river. The agreement was finalized in October 2000 as a consent decree, and the government has estimated the cleanup it outlines could cost as much as $700 million.
Dump part of negotiations
Hill 78 was included in the consent decree despite a protest from the Pittsfield City Council during the 1998 negotiations. When the final draft emerged with the dump still intact, the City Council and former Mayor Gerald S. Doyle Jr. approved it nonetheless.
According to state and federal records, GE had long used the spot as a dumping ground for waste from its transformer plant, including large metal drums of Pyranol, an oil that contains 60 percent PCBs. The consent decree allows that waste to remain and entitles GE to dump soil and other debris — but no liquids — that have PCB content of up to 50 parts per million. By comparison, the federal standard for a residential property is 2 parts per million.
While Hill 78 will eventually be capped, there is no liner underneath it to keep the pollution from seeping to the groundwater and migrating out of the dump. The EPA has said the air and water around it are carefully monitored, and that so far no pollution has moved off site.
Nuciforo said monitoring is not good enough.
“Materials that end up in landfills like Hill 78 tend to move over time. We may not see any migration of this material this year, and we won’t see any next year, but there is a strong likelihood that there will be some movement of this material over time. And that should concern everyone.”
GE doesn’t support removal
GE spokesman Peter O’Toole said GE would “absolutely not” support reopening the consent decree to remove Hill 78.
“There is just no evidence that the landfill is a threat to the school. All the study data is showing that there isn’t a problem,” O’Toole said.
David Deegan, an EPA spokesman, said the agency has not received any communication from Nuciforo but indicated it supports the consent decree as written: “Hill 78 was obviously addressed in the consent decree, which had a wide-ranging support at the time, and it is all designed to ensure protecting the health of the community. Beyond that, I don’t think we will want to weigh in until we actually see what the senator is requesting.”
Parents and teachers at Allendale have been calling on state or federal authorities to test the inside of the school for PCBs to determine whether the children are at risk.
Authorities had refused until this week, when the Department of Environmental Protection announced that the Department of Public Health would conduct the tests.
The DPH, however, has said it will first do an assessment and may or may not test for PCBs inside the school. Nuciforo yesterday sent a letter to the commissioners of both agencies, asking for thorough PCB tests to be done in the school and its school yard. The two agencies are essentially equals, both answering to the governor.
“We have to begin with proper information. DPH needs to do a test,” Nuciforo said.
Yesterday, a member of the Pittsfield Board of Health, Bobbi Orsi, said the DPH promised her it would test the school for PCBs. A call to DPH seeking confirmation was not returned in time for this report.
Heap Big Magic Pothole Machine Perfect for 4th of July Parade
Finally, we add this note received at The Planet this morning courtesy of Da General, one of our most reliable gumshoes. We give it a Golden Chuckle for “Laugh of the Week.” Da Gen writes:
“Just getting around to sending you a THANK YOU for including De Gen
in the fun on yesterday’s Planet in your coverage of the Big Red Magic
“With a whole lot of luck and prayers from above, Big Red
will be here to carry the Grand Marshall down North St on July 4th.
Within two years this modern highway ‘miracle’ will be out rusting to its death, hidden from our forgiving eyes.
Da Gen, a long-time city dweller, speaks the truth from sad experience.
What are the odds, ladies and gentleman, that Da General is correct: Two years from now, what will the condition be of Big Red Magic Pothole Medicine Machine?. As “The Chief” has pointed out, it “costum heap big wampum,” $126,000 of your money, taxpayers.
MANY OTHER DEADLINES ARE AWAITING ON THE PLANET, SO WE MOVE ANON. TOMORROW: THE PLANET’s TAKE ON A PITTSFIELD FLAG, WITH GUEST WRITER ZACH CUTLER, THAT AND MORE. LOVE TO ALL.