Article

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?

Hill 78 site from the air. (Photo, EPA)

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.

However …

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?

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“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.

23 Responses to “ONE SMALL WORD HOLDS KEY TO WHY PEDA HASN’T BEEN ABLE TO GET THE JOB DONE FOR CITIZENS OF PITTSFIELD”

  1. Varsity Mom
    February 18, 2014 at 2:10 am #

    I am so proud of you.

  2. Nota
    February 18, 2014 at 6:21 am #

    Off topic but hilarious, was watching Johnnies Morning Show at the 48th minute some lady bites her nails and spit it out, you have to see it, love live t v.

  3. Scott
    February 18, 2014 at 7:34 am #

    I agree a real clean up is essential to any “vision” where we move forward until then we’re stuck on stupid.

  4. Mad Trapper
    February 18, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    Dan, I believe part of the remediation of the demolished buildings was to put contaminated equipment in a pit and add several feet of cement.

    Any wonder NO ONE would want to locate their factory/business on top of that?

    • Roman Knows
      February 18, 2014 at 10:27 am #

      The 12y underground vacuum treat tanks were filled with contaminated machinery, back-filled with gravel and capped with concrete.

    • danvalenti
      February 20, 2014 at 9:39 am #

      Could that be why there’s no certified list of disposed equipment? Where’s the manifest? No one has seen such a document.

  5. Joe Blow
    February 18, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    There have been a few articles in the BB about a community greenhouse recently. It struck me as a really dumb idea but if the guy is using his own coin,then I wish him the best. I knew it was only a matter of time before someone floated the idea of giving taxpayer dollars to this project.

    • danvalenti
      February 20, 2014 at 9:38 am #

      As soon as tax dollars come into Pittsfield, it’s the KOD (kiss of you-know-what).

  6. Rafael
    February 18, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    Yes, Pittsfield got totally screwed on the consent decree. We all knew it then, we all know it now. I don’t think there is much, if anything, anyone can do to reopen it.

  7. Dave
    February 18, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    The consent decree has been modified 11 times according to you Dan. I don’t dispute that because if you report something that can be easily verified I will take your word for it. If it is possible could you do one of your cut and paste jobs and enlighten us all on
    1. Each modification requested (Were only 11 requested or were there more that were denied?
    2. Were they all procedural or language modifications or was there any substance to any of them that actually benefitted the city?
    3. What was the cost to the city in lawyer’s fees for these modifications and was is cost effective?

    I only ask this because if we try to open the consent decree for any significant reason, we will spend thousands in lawyers fees for the first judge to say- sorry you signed a binding agreement. On appeal we will spend hundreds of thousands on lawyers for the appellate court judge to say-sorry you signed a binding agreement.

    I am assuming G.E. didn’t fight the first 11 openings of the consent decree because it didn’t cost them more than it would have to pay their lawyers to show up.

    Didn’t we also join in a countywide coalition to try to get compensation for contamination? Would trying to open the consent decree on our own conflict with that>

    Lot to digest Dan, but I was bored and you are the man with all the answers.

    • MrG1188
      February 19, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

      Below is all the documentation one could want re: the COnsent Decree, including the document itself and all supporting documentation. Chew on that, if not now then next time you are bored. First thing I noted was the number of parties involved. Went well beyond Pittsfield vs. GE! I’ll see what I can find on re-openers in the meantime, but I am reading Drupal for Dummies too so it may take a while…that’s pretty dense stuff.

      http://www.epa.gov/region1/ge/cleanupagreement.html

      • Dave
        February 19, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

        I stand corrected, MrG1188 you are the man with the answers.

      • Donald
        February 19, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

        Reading this I’m curios to know why everyone thinks Pittsfield lost this battle. Would we attract more businesses as a Superfund site, where we’d likely still be waiting for any cleanup to start? What were the alternatives? Seems like we’re just passing any additional cost found to GE anyway.

        • Mad Trapper
          February 19, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

          More toxins in JUST Silver Lake than Love Canal.

          Consent decree solution is burying all that with a few feet of sand and no “remediation”. Much the same on the rest of the HUGE SUPERFUND site that was owned and polluted by GE.

          City/PEEDA was given a still heavily contaminated cesspool of known toxins and 10 million pieces of silver for the Judases that brokered the sellout.

          Yes, a Superfund designation would have been MUCH better.

        • danvalenti
          February 20, 2014 at 9:35 am #

          DONALD
          Thank you for a fair and important question. Pittsfield would not have been better as a Superfund site. We would have been way down on the list and would still be waiting. There is another alternative, however, between that fate and the Consent Decree as signed by the parties. That would have been Pittsfield’s winning more concessions out of GE etc. for a more substantial cleanup. The evidence suggests that contamination left in the ground is the ultimate culprit as to why the PEDA site has been such a dud. My contention is that the Decree is a “living document.” It can be modified to meet current situations. It’s an unreasonable goal to expect every last molecule of contamination to be removed. It is a REASONABLE goal, however, to except we could win the removal of Hill 78 and 71, for example. It can be done. We only need consent of WE THE PEOPLE, which I think we have, and the political will, which we do not have with the present cast of characters.

      • danvalenti
        February 20, 2014 at 9:36 am #

        MRG
        Thanks. That’s where THE PLANET got much of the data for this essay. Modification four through 11 of the Consent Decree have hot links. Anyone with a computer can open them.

  8. amandaWell
    February 18, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    Deacon Dan is officially, Under Pressure!

  9. Ron Kitterman
    February 19, 2014 at 1:11 am #

    A good analogy with the Bobby Fisher chess comparison , with the City Council playing checkers for the past several years, hopefully the mayor isn’t playing solitaire at the Allen Street job in favor of the 100 North Street gig. The transparency promised to voters a few years back by Dan is wearing thin for me anyway. Would have to agree with you and Amanda that it’s game on at this point.

    • danvalenti
      February 20, 2014 at 9:36 am #

      Thanks, RK.

  10. Bill Sturgeon
    February 19, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    Right on target, Ron!

  11. Jonathan Melle
    February 19, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    I agree with everything that Dan Valenti wrote about Pittsfield politics as it relates to GE’s toxic waste Consent Decree. Pittsfield got screwed with no lubrication by Jack Welch and General Electric Company. Pittsfield politics sucks! Pittsfield is polluted and thousands of locals have suffered and died from cancer caused by GE’s toxic waste PCBs. No Fortune 500 corporation will ever locate in Pittsfield. PEDA is a failure! Thousands of people have left Pittsfield since Gerry Doyle signed GE’s Consent Decree in 2000. Pittsfield politics have spent several million dollars from GE’s fund on downtown revitalization. Meanwhile, thousands of local jobs have been lost. The biggest employers in Pittsfield is the City of Pittsfield and non-profits like the Hospital. Pittsfield’s high finances are unsustainable. I don’t understand why Dan Valenti blames Mayor Dan BIanchi for all of Pittsfield’s problems. Dan Bianchi inherited the mess left behind by Pittsfield politic’s 2 worst Mayors: Gerry Doyle and Jimmy Ruberto. But according to Dan Valenti, it is all Dan Bianchi’s fault.

  12. Jonathan Melle
    February 19, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

    Who is liable for PEDA’s liabilities? Pittsfield’s taxpayers?

    • danvalenti
      February 20, 2014 at 9:30 am #

      The answer, to the best of our knowledge, is yes, taxpayers.