CRUCIAL MEETING ‘REST OF THE RIVER’ SET FOR OCT. 12, LENOX, AT 6:30 p.m. … THE PLANET’S DISCUSSION OF THIS VITAL AND LIFE-CHANGING STORY CONTINUES
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, OCT. 6, 2011) — And so in this sloppy business called government, the battles rage, usually with good intent among well-purposed people but sometimes not. The bad actors most always stand exposed by the fruits of their work.
FRUITS FAIR AND FOUL
The fruits of General Electric Company’s nearly 100 years of operating in the city of Pittsfield can be counted: decades of employment for countless thousands of people, with generations of some families having jobs with the firm. These were typically good-pay, great-benefits manufacturing jobs. Those jobs — which peaked at around 14,000 employed in three GE businesses: power transformer, plastics, and naval ordinance — vanished when GE pulled out of Pittsfield in the early 1990s.
The company left behind other fruits as well: a slew of empty buildings and a fetid cauldron of industrial poisons and toxins. Most of the old buildings have been torn down. The poisons remain.
Industrial toxins resist numeration, say, the way head-count does. To this day, no one knows for sure how many tons of PCBs, contaminated metals and materials, bisphenol, oxybenzone, acids and greases, chemicals, decabromodiphenyl ether, and the like were dumped into the air, soil, and water of Pittsfield. It’s a long list of ingredients, and to date, there is no definitive account. That perhaps remains the most scocking fact of all.
That, my dear friends, more than any other single factor, likely explains why Pittsfield has been unable to land “the next big one” or even a few small ones when it comes to economic development. The city has a nationwide and world reputation as a toxic dump.
CONSENT AGREEMENT: GOOD FOR GE, BUT WHAT ABOUT PITTSFIELD?
When GE left town, it did not take its poisons with it. It left them there, for the city of Pittsfield to handle or ignore. Then on Oct. 7, 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the state Department of Environmental Protection, various other state and federal agencies, the city of Pittsfield, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, and GE reached the now-controversial, and to many, infamous Consent Agreement.
The agreement provides for cleanup of the Housatonic River and associated areas, environmental restoration of the river, and partial compensation for damages. The agreement also included what officials call a “definitive Economic development Agreement” among GE, the city of Pittsfield, and PEDA for economic redevelopment of the former GE site. The Consent Decree had nothing to say about the poisons that migrated elsewhere in the city, for instance, through the use of GE waste and contamination as construction fill.
Pittsfield received $10 million ($1 million for 10 years) in buyout money. Hill 78, a five-story mountain of industrial poison, was allowed to remain in place. The agreement required GE to install a protective cap on top and a groundwater monitoring system on bottom to monitor groundwater surrounding the infamous Hill.
Allendale School sits literally adjacent to Hill 78. At the school and on the ground itself, GE removed soil with PCB contamination greater than 2 ppm. For once-pristine Silver Lake, into which GE dumped oceans of the most hazardous of waste for almost a century, GE would remove PCB hot spots in the riverbanks and near the outfall then cap the 26-acre lake bottom.
DID GE GET AN INDEMNIFICATION CLAUSE IN THE CONSENT AGREEMENT?
The agreement includes what the executive summary of the document calls “Protection for GE from certain ‘contribution’ claims by other parties” — an ominous provision that appears to provide blanket protection for the company from certain exposures.
GE was represented in the secret negotiations in Boston by two buildings worth of the top legal talent in the world. Pittsfield brought to the table … Gerry Doyle and Tom Hickey. Hickey, as the stories go, spent most of his time trying to keep Doyle and his cronies out of the Hub’s watering holes. Think it was a fair fight?
In fact, when objecting voices tried to make claims against the agreement, federal district court ruled the “opposition failed to provide a basis to reject the agreement.” The Housatonic River Initiative, for example, was slapped in the face by the court because it “merely offered to parrot old arguments” … yeah, like, “Hey, this stuff is bad for our health. It’s killing us. It’s killing our environment.” This latter quote is THE PLANET’s paraphrase of the HRI much more technical and incisive presentation.
The court’s ruling mentioned that on the videotape submitted by HRI to fight the Consent Agreement, “former Pittsfield Mayor Remo Del Gallo is a principal speaker on the videotape … [and he] has expressed written support [of the Consent Decree].”
No basis for rejection the Consent Decree? How about this as a basis: Allowing GE to skip town leaving its poisons in the local environment for perpetuity, likely condemning many others to die slow deaths with GE industrial toxins as a presumed causative factor. They would join the countless of others who succumbed to illnesses that reason and logic would attribute to the GE plant.
WHO’S FOR REOPENING THE DEAL AND GETTING FAIR COMPENSATION FROM GE?
What the citizens of Pittsfield need to understand is that the Consent Decree contains provisions for reopeners. In fact, the agreement has been re-opened nearly a dozen times for tweaking. How much of the tweaking solely benefitted GE? don’t know, but we have our suspicions. In that respect, here’s a question:
Should the Consent Agreement be reopened again by the citizens of Pittsfield, working through their representatives, for the purpose of seeking a more just deal? Since removal of the toxins would probably involve bulldozing under the entire city, all 42.3 square miles, and therefore not feasible, a monetary settlement might more be in order, say, with $100,000,000 as an opening figure.
If you think so, then pressure your lawmakers — on the city council, in the state house, and in Congress — to do that. Press candidates for office how they feel about this question.
THE REST OF THE RIVER: KEY MEETING OCT. 12 IN LENOX
What citizens in South County and Connecticut — The Rest of the River — need to understand is that the fate of the Housatonic River is still being debated. An important meeting, the most vital to date, on this question, will be conducted on Wednesday, Oct. 12, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Lenox Town Hall. THE PLANET urges everyone with dog in this fight (that included every citizen of Berkshire County but particularly those in Pittsfield and south) to attend.
DOCTOR ‘ADMONISHES SELFISH ZEALOTS’
On this subject THE PLANET reprints a letter sent to us last night and posted as a comment after yesterday’s story. We present it here in case you missed it, treated as a guest column:
AND A DOSE OF SARCASM
By Dr. George Anthony Turan
Dear Dan, This was a prophecy [Truran doesn’t say when he first wrote this, but it apparently was while Jack Welch was still CEO of GE]:
To whom it might concern:
I’m writing this letter to admonish those selfish zealots who oppose the wonderful clandestine agreement that our representatives and elected officials have crafted with that company that brings “good things” to life, General Electric. Don’t they realize that the economic future of Pittsfield is at stake? Even the editorialists of our local newspaper, The Berkshire Bird (a.k.a. Eagle [what THE PLANET calls the Boring Broadsheet]) heap their praise upon this virtuous settlement.
Look at the “benefits” to the city of Pittsfield:
(1) A still-contaminated toxic waste site, for free! If I was the CEO of a major industrial corporation, that’s where I’d want to build my new factory. Just think my office could overlook the once-pristine Silver Lake, a heavily contaminated chemical cesspool that will remain toxic in perpetuity.
(2) Several million dollars in economic aid to the city of Pittsfield, a mere drop or two from the oceanic corporate coffer of GE and less than GE CEO Jack Welch takes home in a year. Surely this will finance the economic renaissance well into the next year or two, perhaps even repair some long neglected bridges and schools.
(3) An “ecologically sound cleanup” of the first two miles of the once beautiful Housatonic river, consisting of a superficial skimming of the most assessable contaminants while the lion’s share is “safely sealed” under a “permanently impervious” sheet of plastic (i.e. swept under the rug) that no PCB could ever escape from, even if a MAJOR flood occurs.
Now how about the hidden agenda and self-serving interests of the whiners who attempt to sabotage this wonderful and forever binding settlement?
(Am) Those who want a full cleanup of the river, the HRI and Tim Gray. These people are clear-cut Eco-nazis! Of what and who would benefit from a fishable swimmable river? Some wacko gun toting hunters, hungry fishermen, granola crunching canoeists, and the wildlife of the Housatonic river valley from here to Long Island Sound. Clearly this is a selfish agenda that benefits only fringe groups. If the animals were in any danger from wallowing in the toxic slime their cause would surly have been championed by some wonderful animal rights group like PETA (you know, the people who endorse drinking beer instead of milk as a healthy lifestyle).
(B) The people whose properties were contaminated by GE’s foul spoor. Who cares if their property is only superficially cleaned and left worthless? These people don’t need clean soil for their family gardens. Just go to Stop and Shop for your fresh vegetables and stop complaining. Remember that the wonderful agreement is at stake!
(C) George Wislocki and the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. Their sole agenda is to stifle economic development. Look at the thousands of acres of prime land they’ve snatched up from the developers grasp, and for what? To preserve some useless open spaces as wildlife habitat and maintain its scenic beauty. Look at what this has done to Realtors and Developers trying to build and pave over the Berkshires, just the spin off loss of carpentry jobs is astronomic!
(D) Those people who oppose the uncapped, unlined, and untreated landfill of toxic sludge adjacent to Morningside School on Hill 78 and other locations on the GE property. Are they out of their minds?
This last group is surely the farthest out of touch with reality and have no views toward the future. When GE finally is through with the massive and thorough cleanup that they’ve promised, these will no longer be mere hills but true mountains, perhaps even rivaling the majestic Green and White ranges to our north. Developers will fight over the rights to these lofty piles of sludge, ski resorts will be developed and the values of nearby properties will soar, the land being quickly snatched up by second homebuyers and condo builders. And think of the economic spin offs of these new resorts, not only will Pittsfield have a new manufacturing base but also a complimentary service economy.
Dr. George Anthony Truran
OTHER USEFUL INFO TAKEN FROM EPA (AND OTHER) WEBSITES
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, a portion of the Housatonic River in Pittsfield was rechanneled by the city (with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers) to straighten that stretch of the river for flood control purposes. The process isolated former bends in the old river channel, creating a number of oxbows. These ponded or swampy oxbow areas were subsequently backfilled with various materials, including some industrial wastes from GE. A total of 11 former oxbow areas were identified near the GE plant.
Rest of River is the term used in the Consent Decree to describe the investigation and decision making process for the Housatonic River from the confluence of the East and West Branch downstream into Connecticut.
Under the terms of the Consent Decree, EPA conducted studies and investigations to support the Agency in developing Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments and in performing a Modeling Study of the hydrodynamics, sediment transport, and PCB fate and bioaccumulation in the river. The reports from these activities underwent formal external Peer Review. Following the RCRA process outlined in the Reissued RCRA Permit (Appendix G to the Consent Decree) GE prepared a Supplemental RCRA Facility Investigation Report, and proposed interim cleanup goals for the Rest of River upon completion of the risk assessment Peer Reviews.
GE will submit a proposal for evaluating cleanup alternatives and, after EPA approval or modification of this proposal, GE will evaluate cleanup alternatives (corrective measures) for the Rest of River, including a no-action scenario. EPA will then propose a selected alternative for public comment. After public comment, EPA will finalize the corrective measure(s) to be implemented for the Rest of River. GE and/or the public may then appeal EPA’s decision to the EPA Environmental Appeals Board, and then to the Federal Court of Appeals. As specified in the Consent Decree, upon completion of all appeals, the remedy that was upheld will be implemented by GE as a CERCLA action.
THIS IS ONLY ONE OF THE BIGGEST STORIES GOING, SO NATURALLY THE BORING BROADSHEET IGNORES IT. NOT HERE, AND MORE ON THE PLANET TOMORROW …
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE”
LOVE TO ALL.