PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, SEPT. 17, 2013) — At tonight’s city council meeting, our Right Honorable Good Friends shall hear about amendments to the GE Consent Agreement (GECA) being proposed by Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi.

THE PLANET supports this initiative, which would transfer property around Silver Lake owed by GE and privately into city control. Another change the mayor wants would grant the city easements and rights of way on land owned by GE and PEDA. Under the terms of the Consent Agreement, the mayor must obtain approval from the council to make the amendments. Silver Lake, 26 acres of water 30 feet deep and once a recreational gem for the city, became under GE’s foul presence a dumping ground for some of the most noxious of industrial pollutants. The changes the mayor seeks would help with the remediation of the lake.

As THE PLANET understands the move, the property transfers ownership of some land around the lake to the city. The easements pertain to land owned by GE and PEDA. Under the agreement, GE is paying for restoration of the land around the lake, which would include a public walking path. The easements will allow the city to provide maintenance and upkeep of the recreational trail once it is installed. The scenic walkway would only be done after GE completes the remedial actions in the lake itself.

That action will consist of installing a 14-inch-thick sub-aqueous cap over the lake bottom. The cap is a combination of sand, stone, and geotextile materials developed specifically for that application. In addition, the polluted sediments from the lakeshore are being scooped off and removed. You can see that work in the process of progress if you drive around Silver Lake Boulevard.

Many questions have been raised about the cap. How will the cap prevent chemical leakage from underneath it? What will prevent polluted water from underneath from draining into the Housatonic River? We can ponder these as long as we like, but of course, the ultimate question is how could the city of Pittsfield let GE off the hook on the remediation not only of Silver Lake but the entire 52 acres of the former GE campus?

That takes us back to the days, weeks, and months in the late 1990s when the city of Pittsfield — essentially Mayor Gerry Doyle and the city attorney — sat down across the table from the best legal minds of GE. To this day, the transcripts and/or minutes to those sessions have never been released or made public. Why? Does it contain evidence of legalized highway robbery? Would it be an embarrassment to the players involved?

Remedial work is under way at Silver Lake.

Needless to day, the negotiations were a mismatch. GE got off with a cleanup that provided remediation of mere cents on the dollar. The agreement left in place most of the PCBs and other pollutants. The company was required to remove pollutants to only a certain depth, certainly not at or below foundation level. It gave the city a measly $10 million ($1 million for $10 years). Today, with the PEDA property still empty after all these years, it’s apparent that companies and businesses who otherwise might have an interest in the site are reluctant to build there because of what lies underneath the foundations and the potential liabilities they face. Who faces the bills for that? What business would want to build there knowing it might be on the hook for an EPA-style clean-up?

In addition, consider that the problem with the pollutants wasn’t confined to the 52-acre GE complex. The company for years gave away contaminated fill, especially after WWII, when there was a construction boom for residential and suburban neighborhoods. GE, according to the old timers who worked there, also used many parcels of land as dumping sites. The city has never received, or if it has it has never made public, a manifest listing all of these hot locations. Why not? Why was that not one of the conditions of the consent agreement? Can the city obtain such an inventory? If so, how? Who pays for it?

During Campaign 2011, THE PLANET raised the question to many of the candidates: Would you support re-opening the Consent Agreement to get GE to pay more of a financial penalty for leaving so much pollution behind in the city of Pittsfield? Most pols gave vague and non-commital answers. Councilor-at-large Melissa Mazzeo, alone, jumped on the issue, promising action to push a reopener of the GECA. With most of the term done, Mazzeo has yet to act in any kind of substantial way. Was she playing politics two years ago?

When we asked her about that earlier in the year, on Feb. 22, Mazzeo answered this way:

Last year, February to be exact, I had a meeting with a gentlemen [sic] in the community with extensive knowledge of the PCB problems in Pittsfield. At the meeting we both agreed that taking on the Consent Decree was a Huge undertaking for anyone person or even a group of people with out some political clout or MONEY. We did however agree that if we could get someone with Clout to shine a light on our problem it may help us to start the process of cracking open the Decree. We wanted to focus on the PCB clean -up of Sliver Lake and thought of contacting the Harvard School of Public Health. We felt that if we could get them to come here and study our contamination of this lake that maybe this would give us the leverage we needed to re-adress the other concerns..Hill 78, etc.  I Sent an email to them.

She sent an e-mail and left it at that. Here is a copy of that e-mail, sent to Harvard:

I am a City Councilor in Pittsfield MA, a city of about 41,000. I would like to speak with someone from HSPH about the possiblity of doing a study on PCB’s in Pittsfield MA. GE has polluted our city and was made to clean-up “hot spots”..I and many in our city wonder what are, if any, potention [sic] problems we can have by PCB’s being left in the soil? I think this would be a great oppurtunity [sic] for research and study for your Dept. I can give more details if someone wants to contact me… my email is listed above or I can be reached by phone at 413-443-4079. I thank you for your consideration.
Melissa Mazzeo

Mazzeo had this to say to THE PLANET about the reply she received from Harvard:

I received an email response back giving me another link to send my request to. So I sent off another email to that address, twice, and never got a response. Having said all this… Alot of things were going on with the City that I needed to address as a Councilor and I did not follow up any further. I have spoken with alot of people in the community who think Changing the Consent Decree will never happen, [sic] GE has too many lawyers and deep pockets. Would I like to try, absolutely. Can i [sic] do it by myself, No. I do think the way this person and I wanted to try to go about it was a start and when I have time to reach out to Harvard again and try to make a contact, I will. But I first have to do the work that is in front of me. 
Melissa Mazzeo

Basically, she sent some e-mails and did little follow up. She said she made “a start” on the question and pledged to “reach out to Harvard again and try to make contact.” Has that happened? Also, who is the “gentleman with extensive knowledge about the PCB problem in Pittsfield?”  Why Harvard? She didn’t say.

On a more practical level, Mazzeo raises two fair points. First, she’s but one official. One official will not be able to do much. Second, she is correct. There is a prevailing view that it would be futile to try to reopen the GECA.

From a purely pragmatic point of view, the City of Pittsfield had its best and biggest opportunity to receive a fair settlement from GE back in the late 90s, when they were sitting down at the negotiating table for that precise purpose.

The city of Pittsfield blew it big time. It let the company pretty much off the hook. Silver Lake was left dirty. Hill 78 was left to remain next to Allendale grammar school. The deeper subsoils underneath the foundations on the 52 acre GE property were left untouched. Virtually all of the remainder of the polluted hot spots in and around the city were left unremediated. In exchange for all that, the city got $10 million in yearly installments, payments that ran out five years ago. Pittsfield had its big chance. It whiffed completely.

Can the GECA be reopened? Absolutely, as Mayor Bianchi’s request to the city council illustrates. In fact, the agreement has been opened a number of times previously, each time to deal with some routine procedural matter of the kind that Bianchi’s proposal addresses. Theoretically,the GECA can be reopened for any purpose at any time. The mechanisms of re-opening exist in the agreement itself.

However, it’s one thing to ask for a re-opener to facilitate the existing and agreed-upon processes of remediation, which the mayor is doing. It is something else entirely to request a re-opener to put GE’s terms of liability on the table again. That would only happen with a near-unanimous consent of the mayor, the city council, the school committee, our state legislators, federal representatives, and important players in the business community — a critical mass of those in power acting on behalf of a victimized people to force a well-equipped company back to the negotiating table again.

This image gives a good sense of the sheer size of Hill 78. Underneath the skin is some of the most polluted debris in the country, yet it was allowed to remain in place next to a grammar school by a one-sided agreement during which the city of Pittsfield blew its chance with GE.

Short of that, again speaking pragmatically, perhaps its best to accept the remediation as is, push for the best and cleanest recreational area around Silver Lake, and bring the lake back into its once-former role of in-city aqueous gem.

THE PLANET, though, would advise at minimum pushing for the removal of Hill 78. Removal of this multi-storied mountain of toxicity a stone’s length from a grammar school would be a far easier sell. The objective o the re-opener can be phrased in pin-point precision, with Hill 78 being a well-defined geographical entity.

If the political and business community could unite on this one objective, we think it could be done.

Pushing for the removal of Hill 78 is a dynamite issue for any candidate looking to score big points at the polls this year. In other words, it’s ripe for politicking.  We only hope that anyone who brings this measure up and advocated for the same will be a snarling wildcat upon obtaining power, one who won’t go away, and one who will be willing to do the hard work needed to build some sort of consensus or coalition of activists with the power to force change.


And you, dear readers, let us know what you think about this important issue.


“In a hard intellectual light / I will kill all delight, / And I will build a citadel / Too beautiful to tell.”Richard Eberhart, first staza, “In a Hard Intellectual Light,” (1936).




  1. dusty
    September 17, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    You say that the city let GE off the hook. I think it should be noted that Mayor Gerry Doyle was in charge of the cities interests. He deserves all the credit for Hill 78 next to a grammar school and the rest of the mess his fellow citizens have to live next to. Go Gerry!

  2. GMHeller
    September 17, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    Mr. Valenti,
    Why would anyone in their right mind seek to get title to land the remediation of which is a cruel joke?
    To whom does liability transfer for possible future cleanups on this property?
    To whom does liability transfer to pay for medical treatments of persons made sick with Cancers by the lake and the noxious chemicals emanating from it?
    Will the City of Pittsfield now be on the hook for all this instead of GE?

  3. CarlosDanger
    September 17, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    On the surface, the transfer of this land from GE to the city seems to let GE off the hook permanently for anything doing with that land. Also, was GE paying property tax on that land and is the city now losing that?
    The other issue with PCB and other chemical ground pollution is this stuff leaks into ground water which can then contaminate other areas.
    Basically, Pittsfield got screwed on the consent decree and we are stuck with it.

  4. Still wondering
    September 17, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    I used to be good friends with Gerry Doyle. But now I just look at him and think what a self-serving SOB he is.

    • Donald
      September 17, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

      You sound like a great friend!

  5. tito
    September 17, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    I look at Gerr and think of a bald headed guy with a hangover and a tan.

  6. Payroll Patriot
    September 17, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Where is the material from Silver (?) Lake going to be dumped?
    Dan, you missed another City official that was Gerry’s baby sitter at the GE negotiations.
    Politics in Pittsfield (Democrat style) : the South Street reconstruction gets finished just before the primary election, even through nothing city wide developed. School building Needs Commission meeting OCT. 21,just before the regular election. Amuso, needs big air time PCTV to move her forward in the election. Her press agent DL will cover.

  7. tito
    September 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    I’m for a floating Casino at Silver Lake.

  8. tito
    September 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    Kinnas is sick of illegal signs and he’s not going to take it anymore!

  9. Foxy Lady
    September 17, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    Some negotiations. It was like David against Goliath except Goliath rubbed little David’s face in the dirt. DV is right about the city blowing its last best chance against GE.

  10. Nota
    September 17, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Finally Jonathan Lothrop is asking some hard questions, welcome back!

  11. Jonathan Melle
    September 17, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    Pittsfield politics is corrupt!
    The GE Consent Decree is illegal because it is fraudulent.
    GE capped most of the PCBs in Pittsfield. The caps expire after a number of years because the caps become ineffective as time wears on.
    After the caps expire, the PCBs spread in Pittsfield’s water, air, and land, to cause cancer in thousands of Pittsfield residents.

    • Jonathan Melle
      September 17, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

      P.S. Don’t tell GE lobbyist Peter Larkin I sent this email. (sarcasm)!

      “Former state Rep. Peter J. Larkin, who sponsored the landmark brownfields legislation that made the consent decree possible.” “Kennedy kept in touch” (by Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, August 27, 2009).

  12. tito
    September 17, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    Jonathan,why was Jack Downing giving Larkin tens of thousands of dollars?

  13. billy
    September 18, 2013 at 5:40 am #

    Can you please help me understand why our mayor is actively campaigning against. His detractors? why is he not at work doing the people’s business ? What did you mean he’s working a second job? Isn’t there rules against that? If this kind of behavior doesn’t scream for city manager. Nothing does. I am saddened on what voter apathy has left on our doorstep as mayor. (Sigh)

    • danvalenti
      September 18, 2013 at 6:37 am #

      SInce he has no balloted opponents, your guess is better than most: He must be campaigning against his detractors, including THE PLANET and anyone else who dares ask questions or isn’t 1000% in step with his actions and decisions. Before he became mayor, Dan Bianchi worked for Global Montello Group Corp., as manager of natural gas, electricity, and fuel oil. []. He had an office at 100 North St., Suite 301. He still maintains that office. There have been suggestions that he still works for Global. As the the legality of it, I’m not sure. The city charter doesn’t define the mayor’s working hours or job description. It’s definitely against the implicit understanding that people have for their mayor. Taxpayers are paying him $85,000 plus benefits. They expect it to be his full time gig.