ONE SMALL WORD HOLDS KEY TO WHY PEDA HASN’T BEEN ABLE TO GET THE JOB DONE FOR CITIZENS OF PITTSFIELD
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, FEB. 18, 2014) — It was one word on a 44-page document, yet it contained enough meaning to dwarf in significance the remainder of those flaccid, flabby pages. The word contains within it an answer, perhaps the answer, as to why the PEDA site has been such a dud.
On the old TV game show “Password,” the voice-over announced would whisper, “The password is ‘remediation.'” That would send Allen Ludden into action.
Office of Community Development director Douglas Clark used the word in his Feb. 3 letter to THE PLANET‘s Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council. The words, contestants, is “Remediation.”
On page 2 of his memo, Clark writes:
“For the purposes of this analysis, we have assumed the following:
— To avoid remediation issues, the parcel would be leased by PEDA to the company at a cost of $6,000 per acre per year under a 10 year [sic] lease agreement. This would equate to $42,000/year for both parcels totaling 7 acres. PEDA’s lands are not taxable, so the company would not pay taxes on the value of the land.”
An assumption in this case is a conjecture — a belief in the form of an expressed expectation. Clark, Mayor Dan Bianchi, PEDA, and 1Berkshire all have confirmed having contact with most of the companies claimed to be interested in the site. From that, we can make a reasonable judgment on why Clark included the remediation language: The issue obviously has been raised as a concern. To address the concern, PEDA (meaning the city of Pittsfield) has assumed all responsibilities that might come under the heading of “remediation issues.”
What could those issues be? Obviously, they relate to the former use of the property for nearly 100 years by General Electric Company during which the company polluted the acreage with a slew of industrial toxins which, to this day, remains undocumented. Nonetheless, the EPA still refers to the Consent Decree as “the comprehensive remediation and restoration of the GE-Pittsfield/Housatonic River Site performed pursuant to a court order.”
Comprehensive? Obviously not, since Clark, PEDA, Bianchi, and 1Berkshire all agreed on the wording of the troubling “remediation clause” in Clark’s memo.
Essentially, speaking on behalf of but without the consent of taxpayers and citizens, PEDA has assumed all liabilities that might arise due to the contamination of the land. If the Consent Agreement had been “comprehensive,” PEDA would not have had to issue that blank check. And we wonder: Did any of our Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council press Bianchi and company on this point before agreeing to turn loose another million bucks in taxpayer money? This invitation to a financial boondoggle should trouble even the most enthusiastic backer of authentic economic development, the latter a term so misused in and by Pittsfield as to be virtually meaningless.
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It doesn’t take Bobby Fisher to play this out several moves behind or ahead. This information seems to point to the real reason the PEDA land lies vacant after 15 long years: To date, no companies have wanted part of property where issues pertaining to toxicity and industrial/chemical pollution have been so prominent and so unresolved.
The situation also points out the inadequate protections for the citizens of Pittsfield and Berkshire County in the Consent Decree. Those negotiations in the late 90s pitted GE’s best legal team against a legally overmatched and overwhelmed team representing the city. Pittsfield gave away the store. Is that why, to this day, the transcripts of the negotiations have never been made public? THE PLANET finds that secrecy, of course, being the “normal” way of events in the city, doesn’t raise much official concern (See “Promp Theft” or “Frank ‘Free House,'” for instance).
One example of the Consent Decree’s failure can be found in what the Big Shots did with Hill 78. “Hill 78” includes that dump site as well as Hill 71 [Building 71]. The Consent Decree doesn’t use the term “dump.” Rather, it calls the two hills “Consolidation Areas” (nearly seven acres total). You have to admit, the euphemism sounds a lot “cleaner,” doesn’t it? It has a nice antiseptic ring.
“Hill” 78 is more like a small mountain. It covers two acres and stands nearly five stories tall. Unbelievably, it is located next to a grammar school and playground — within 50 feet. Houses along California Avenue also line the site. What community, having a company such as GE at the negotiating table, would have signed an agreement allowing this massive mountain of toxins to remain in place?
We know from worker testimony and other evidence that Hill 78 contains nasty stuff (PCBs, dioxins, benzo[a]pyrene, tetrachlorobenzene, dbenz[a,h]anthracene, methylene chloride, thallium, vinyl chloride, arsenic, barium, lead, and so on) — an accumulation of chemicals, toxins, demolition and construction debris, broken equipment, and who knows what else. The Consent Decree didn’t eliminate Hills 78 and 71, as it should have. Rather, in another clever wording, it has as its “objective” to “eliminate risk of exposure to materials … through a combination of engineering controls and long-term monitoring.” Measures included installing “a protective cap” over 78 and 71, monitoring of groundwater, and installing a liner and leachate collection system.
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What’s done is done, of course. GE and Pittsfield met at the negotiating table. GE came, it saw, and it conquered. Those signatures can’t be altered. However, keep in mind that the Consent Decree is a living document. It can be changed to reflect current conditions, and the current condition is that Pittsfield needs more than it has thus far received from GE.
The Agreement contains provisions for reopeners.
“Reopener” could be a more important word than “remediation.” Enter the present mayor.
Dan Bianchi, come on down.
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Your city needs you. You’ve been asleep at the wheel for two years and two months now. You’ve not presented a “vision” beyond the obvious — not putting in your time, padding your pension, grabbing what you can, the citizens be damned. You’ve cut lots of ribbons, presented lots of little certificates, and attended many grammar-school science fairs. What you haven’t done is represent the city “to the best of your ability.”
We know your ability, and you have not done what you swore to do when you took the oath. Consequently, you have violated that oath.
The evidence strongly suggests you have been moonlighting as a part-time mayor and that your “real” gig is the one you held before you barely won the corner office, you know, the one with Global energy — the one with your office on the three floor of 100 North Street, the old First Aggie Bank building.
THE PLANET has tried repeatedly to ask Bianchi about these matters, but he has just as many times ignored our requests. That is his privilege, which we honor but do not respect. His silence on these and many other questionable matters suggests a slimy, slippery kind of complicity that prevents the fair minded citizens from feeling that they are in good hands and that their “leadership” will go to bat for them.
No sir. With you, it’s been “business as usual.” Them that’s got get more. Them that have less get less. You, sir, represent the worst of the democratic tradition, which uses connections, butt kissing, and “who you know” as the basis for attaining and wielding power. Frankly, that’s not good enough.
We’ll forget all that if you take a stance on behalf of residents. Tell them you’re not satisfied with what happened to the city in its “remediation” dealings with GE. Tell them you’re willing to use the weight of office, whatever bully pulpit you can muster, to explore a reopener of the Consent Decree. You have a city council president, Melissa Mazzeo, who won re-election on her promise to do just that. It’s time to call her on it and together, as a team, work with our state and federal delegations to see what can be done. Get the council and business leaders on board. Drive consensus and present a united front. You wanted to be mayor. Now act like one — or is your soul flat?
THE PLANET points out that the Consent Decree has been modified 11 times already. The 11th was signed on July 31, 2012. Why can’t there be a 12th?
If not, does it mean PEDA will have to continue the current losing game of attempting to market property that, without taxpayers taking all the risk on remediation, it won’t be able to move?
“But east and west will pinch the heart / That cannot keep them pushed apart; / And he whose soul is flat — the sky / Will cave in on him by and by.” — Edna St. Vincent Millay, final verse, “Renascence.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.