By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, OCT. 11, 2011) — With the important meeting set for tomorrow, 6:30 p.m., at Lenox Town Hall of PCBs, GE, and The Rest of the River, we present several related items to load the chamber. We urge everyone in Berkshire County to attend or to otherwise make your views known, as many have done on this website.
THE PLANET has received many thanks, from those on both sides (or should we say all sides) of the debate for focusing on what is arguably the singular issue of importance for Pittsfield and the county: What to do about the remainder of GE pollution that still infests the region.
Our first item comes courtesy of THE PLANET’s unofficials archivist, Ron Kitterman, former county commissioner. He presented us with a copy of an article published by the Boring Broadsheet not long after the city signed the Consent Agreement with GE. The headline is all you need to have:
ARLOS RAPS PCB AGREEMENT FOR OMITTING HUMAN STUDIES
Peter Arlos, the Aging Greek God, once again rains his prophecies upon the blighted land. From his heavenly Olympus, he shakes his head, laughs, and says, “Oh, will ye mortals ever learn”?
WARD 4 REST OF RIVER GROUP PUSHES STATE PLAN FOR HOUSY
A few days ago, THE PLANET received an information packet sent by Bev Naughton on behalf of Dave Bubriski and C. Jeffrey Cook, who co-chair an organization called Ward 4 Rest of River Watch. Naugton writes: “Please note that [the group] believes that the position of the Commonwealth set forth in the attached letter to Susan Swirsky is the most appropriate [solution to dealing with the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield].
She attached about 40 pages of written documents, photos, charts, data, and analysis that the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs sent to Susan Svirsky, project manager for EPA’s Rest of River program administered through the offices of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Svirsky’s local office at the EPA is listed as c/o Weston Solutions, with an address of 10 Lyman Street, Pittsfield.
THE PLANET read through the information carefully, trying to absorb as much as possible. We present in digest form taken from the state’s letter to the EPA’s Svirsky the “key components of the Commonwealth’s proposed remedy.”
Remember, this is the remedy being advocated by Bubriski and Cook in the name of the Ward 4 Rest of River Watch. Keep in mind this is not THE PLANET making these statements, nor are they the representations of Ward 4 Rest of River Watch. These are from Richard K. Sullivan Jr. , state secretary, Executive Office of Environmental Affairs in his letterto Svirsky dated Jan. 31, 2011.
The River Watch group only subscribes to this position. When one Googles to learn more about the group, no website appears. It has a Facebook page with nothing on the “Info” page. There is no listing of members or any discussion of the group’s makeup, intentions, or funding. We mention this for those who will inevitably ask. Here are the key points of the state’s position on the river, bulleted from Sullivan’s letter to the EPA, using as many as Sullivan’s words as possible:
- Excavate Woods Pons to remove approximately 286,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment. This excavation would eliminate up to 25% of the mass of PCBs in the entire rest of the river [Sullivan’s italics].
- At this time, perform no bank or river excavation and stabilization, because this work is not necessary to meet the human health goal identified by the EPA (due to the low concentrations of PCBs) and will inevitably cause severe and long-lasting destrucction of the Housatonic River ecosystem.
- In the floodplain, focus on locations totaling 57 acres[,] where there are significant PCB concentrations. Avoid excavation in the highly sensitive rare species habitats and use institutional controls to address public health risk.
- Transport all excavated material off-site, taking advantage of the nearby rail line. Under no circumstances should there be a hazardous waste landfill construction in Berkshire County for the excavated material. To do so plainly adds insult to injury.
- Perform ongoing monitoring of the success of past and future remediation efforts, ongoing consideration of new technologies as they become available, and reconsider final options for the remaining PCBs as more data is gathered.
- Immediately improve existing institutional controls to prevent human exposure, such as more plentiful fish advisory warnings, regular newspaper advertisements[,] and other informational outreach programs.
Essentially, that is the plan recommended by the state to the feds and advocated by Cook and Bubriski in the name of Ward 4 Rest of River Watch.
THE PLANET thanks Bev Naughton, Dave Bubriski, and Jeff Cook for getting this to us. As always, THE PLANET welcomes comments, discussion, and debate. We shall not comment on this plan one way of the other in the interests of not swaying the debate. We encourage a full hearing of this issue prior to, during, and after Wednesday’s crucial meeting at 6:30 p.m. in Lenox Town Hall.
WHAT IS A CONSENT AGREEMENT ‘REOPENER’ AND WHAT CAN IT DO?
THE PLANET wishes to remind people that there’s much more to be considered than the Rest of River, south of Pittsfield.
True, the Rest of the River would be enough to last a lifetime, but the matter of GE’s remediation with respect to the city of Pittsfield is not, should not, and cannot be finished, the Consent Decree notwithstanding. Silver Lake remains polluted, Hill 78 still towers over an elementary school, and unknown tons of undocumented toxins likely still befoul the air, land, and water in the city.
This stark reality provides the underlying reason why economic development in town has come to a halt. Until the situation is remedied, no amount of economic think tanks and economic development organizations — and there are plenty in town — will mean a thing, except to the six-figure executive directors who make out in the deal. Such economic development rah-rah groups have done little more in 25 years than cheerlead on the sidelines in a Game of Pretend, where there’s no problem with Pittsfield’s environment whatsoever, where everything Comes Up Roses. We know that is nonsense. So do executives of other companies who would otherwise be interested in moving to the Berkshires.
JUST FOR THE REOPENERS…
Many have the mistaken notion that the GE Consent Agreement, signed in late 1999, is chiseled in stone. It’s not. The agreement contains contract language that are called reopeners. In fact, the agreement has been reopened and modified about 10 times.
When GE brought two buildings of top-flight legal minds to play chess against Gerry Doyle representing the city of Pittsfield, the mismatch of the ages, GE OKd “repoeners,” which is contract language that can “set forth conditions by which the state [and other interested parties through the state] may require a property owner to pay for additional remediation. In essence, virtually no environmental cleanup project is ever unequivocally closed” ( quotes from an articled titled, “The Risks of Reopeners at Closed Remediation Sites,” 2009, Zurich American Insurance Company).
GE OKd the reopeners because:
(a) Such language is boilerplate in these kinds of agreements
(b) Moreover, and more importantly, they did so because “it is rare for contractual reopeners to be invoked …” (Zurich). It felt safe that, for the $10 million dollars tossed to Pittsfield to sign the agreement, no politician, official, or other GOB would dare explore the reopeners. Thusfar, GE has been right. It has essentially called Pittsfield’s bluff.
WHEN CAN A CONSENT AGREEMENT BE REOPENED?
According to Zurich, reopeners can be invoked under many circumstances. Parties to an agreement may demand “further remediation” if, for example, there is “immanent and substantial endangerment to the public health and environment” or if “previously undiscovered contamination” is found. Reopeners can be invoked, also, if new contamination is found or there is “a change in condition that exacerbates contamination,” or if maintenance conditions of the Consent Agreement are not maintained.
Also, Zurich notes, “states may reserve the right to reopen remediation projects if there are changes in laws that require cleanup to different levels than prior laws.” That “trigger” has enormous import for Pittsfield. It means that Pittsfield, though home rule petition to Boston, could legislate new health standards for a polluted town that would force GE to come back to the bargaining table.
All of these conditions for reopening the agreement depend on We The People applying pressure on politicians, legislators, and officials to do our bidding. As long as people remain bored, apathetic, and more interested in Lady Gaga’s Grammy gown than the very future of the city, Pittsfield will remain an toxic cesspool on a long fade-out, thanks to the company that “Brings Good Things to Life.”
TOMORROW, THE PLANET LOOKS MORE CLOSELY AT SILVER LAKE, HILL 78, AND REPRINTS DAVE MARTINDALE’s MAGNUS OPUS POSTED ON THIS WEBSITE AS A COMMENT YESTERDAY. IT ANSWERS THE QUESTION OF HIS QUALIFICATIONS ON ALL THINGS GE/PCB/INDUSTRIAL TOXIN. YOU WILL SEE, HE IS ONE OF THE MOST QUALIFIED PEOPLE IN EXTANT. AND BECAUSE THE PLANET LIVES WHERE THE AIR IS PRINTINE AND THE FLOWERS ARE FOREVER BLOOMING, WE CAN SAY …
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.