!!UPDATED!! PLANET SEWAGE EXCLUSIVE: MORE WATER ON THE MUNICIPAL BRAIN … EAGLE EDITORIAL GETS IT RIGHT … PLANET REVIEWS BTG’s ‘PLEASANTLY PANICKY’ IRMA VEP
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
Tonight, for the first Thursday in the past nine, there will be no new Planet Valenti Television episode. All of the equipment is out of the studio and ready for the 4th parade. PV-TV will be back on Thursday, July 10. You won’t believe your eyes and ears. Relentless, pedal to the metal.
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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, INTO THE HOLIDAY WEEKEND, JULY 3-6, 2014) — No use crying about spilled milk, but for Abbey Farm between Holmes Road and the Pittsfield water treatment plant and environs, there’s likely plenty of crying over a massive amount of spilled sewage. Area residents are also (and rightfully) concerned about possible health concerns stemming from a spill that could have easily been prevented and should not have occurred at all. THE PLANET broke the story yesterday, and in little time the inquiries of the state EPA and other parties were under way.
We are having our effect.
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Today, we update this Pittsfield classic story, quintessential in its exemplification the city’s lack of leadership, lack of accountability, institutional dysfunction, and its preference for dealings in the dark when it comes to We The People‘s business.
Yesterday, water man Carl Shaw, the presumptive head of a department that is perhaps the city’s most inefficient, sent underlings to Carr Hardware to buy rakes and lime. Later, personnel were seen at work trying to tender the land affected when a large amount of raw sewage geysered into the Housatonic River, onto the adjacent farmland, and “who knows” where else. Its not known how much sewage and waste poured out. It appears that 400 sq-ft. of property was affected. Of course, that doesn’t include the mainlining of raw sewage into the river for who knows how long.
This monumental lapse of stewardship by waste-water personnel occurred because of a profound miscommunication that led to three catch basins being shut when a predicted, expected rain of torrential proportion moved through the area overnight on June 26 and into June 27. In this day of satellite technology, sophisticated radar, precise prediction of weather fronts, the storm caught the city officials unprepared and clueless.
Sources tell us that, as the beginning of its ongoing investigation, the state Department of Environmental Protection contacted the water department yesterday, which THE PLANET confirmed. Ed Coletta from the DEP told THE PLANET that his agency had begun its own investigation into the incident.
Coletta said the city called the DEP on Friday of last week (the 27th), as it is required by law to do. There’s a however, of course. In Pittsfield, there always is a “however.”
Coletta said that when the department worker called Friday morning, he reached the office of a DEP official who was out of the office that day. The department worker then left a voice mail. Incredibly, the person who left the voice mail, and we don’t have that name, left the message but didn’t think the matter urgent enough to speak to an actual, living person! It wasn’t until the following Monday (this week) that the EPA learned of the leakage of raw sewage.
We then asked Coletta if the caller had reported both the raw-sewage leakage in the river (yes) and the pollution of the farmland. On the latter point, Coletta said that he was “not aware” that the caller had mentioned the farmland poisoning. Deliberately withhold information of the land spillage, if that occurred, could play a significant factor in the DEP’s assignation of penalties.
This would lend support to THE PLANET’s news shared yesterday that, according to our sources, the water department reported leakage into the river (because the monitoring would have revealed it anyway) but not the pollution of the farmland. If that is so, the question becomes: Who made the decision to withhold that information and why? It’s a question that could have millions of dollars in monetary consequences as well as potentially dramatic consequences on current city office holders.
THE PLANET yesterday put in requests for comment to Pittsfield mayor Dan Bianchi and the city’s DPW commissioner Bruce Collingwood. Neither Bianchi nor Collingwood returned our inquiries. We are shocked. Shocked.
Coletta said the DEP has begun its investigation into the incident and that, depending on what the probe reveals, the option of fining the city for any uncovered negligence “would certainly be available to us.” Sources say fines for pollution of this sort could be heavy, perhaps into the millions, depending on what the investigation reveals. Coletta said “it’s too early to tell” about any penalty, adding “there’s no time frame” at this point on how long the agency’s investigation will take. This suggests that the EPA is taking this matter seriously and will investigate with due deliberation.
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Sources familiar with water department procedures yesterday contacted THE PLANET, telling us of “the incredible amount of incompetence and waste” that is considered business-as-usual there. Is that the case? If not, then how could an incident like the recent spillage occur? It also brings the obvious question to mind: What responsibility if any does Bruce Collingwood bear for the blundering on the 26th-27th last month that led to a major environmental insult not just to Mother Nature but also to every citizen, especially taxpaying citizen, of the city?
And what does this all say about the tenure of Bianchi as the city’s CEO? The matter speaks for itself.
Finally, THE PLANET saw with our own eyes the affected area after the manhole cover blew and the major trunkline was violated. Sewage was everywhere — human waste, condoms, feminine napkins, and other assorted goodies. In the interests of a modicum good taste, we shall not proceed further with our descriptions. The water shooting out of the blown manhole looked like a geyser. Let’s call it Old Faithless.
Be sure. The last word on this has not been spoken. Also, it points out the futility of the ill-thought-out mayoral “press policy.” If THE PLANET had abided by policy, Berkshire County would still be in the dark about this environmental sin. Julia Sabourin, the green adminstrative aide for The Empty Suit, would have relayed a request for comment to TES, and he would have gone silent.
Press policy? THE PLANET doesn’t need no stinking press policy! We’d rather work our sources.
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In case you missed it, The Berkshire Eagle ran an editorial on the mayor’s media policy. Here’s what it said:
Our opinion: Transparency is best media policy
It is difficult to see how the new Pittsfield City Hall policy regarding employee contacts with the media, and by extension, the public, will make communication more efficient, as asserted by Mayor Daniel Bianchi and Director of Administrative Services Julia Sabourin. The policy is more likely to have an inhibiting effect, and the reason for the emergence of this policy raises concerns as well.
The two-page policy statement, dated June 24, was distributed to department heads last week and found its way to local blogger [and TV host] Dan Valenti, who decried it as an attack on the press’ access to city employees. In instituting what the mayor described as a “more formal press protocol within City Hall,” employees were advised to contact Ms. Sabourin if “they do not feel comfortable with a reporter” or would like her input on an issue, to contact her for advice when “a new or unresolved topic” is brought up, and to notify her after they have spoken to a reporter.
Ms. Sabourin told The Eagle’s Jim Therrien (July 1) that the policy was developed because many employees had questions about how to handle the media. It isn’t clear why employees are now having these questions in the mayor’s second term unless they believe dealing with the media is potentially problematic for them. If they felt intimidated before they will feel more intimidated now given the rules mandated by the memo, which are unlikely to bring about better communication between City Hall and the press and public.
These kinds of regulations are common in the private sector, but the public sector, which is financed by taxpayers, must encourage contact with the press, not discourage it. The local media’s constituency consists of more than the residents who voted for the mayor; it includes those who voted against him, those who sit out elections and those not old enough to vote. They all have a vested interest in what goes on in City Hall and should expect City Hall to provide access to their representatives in the media.
To her credit, Ms. Sabourin, who is new to the job, acknowledged to The Eagle that the memo should have been released publicly, chalking up the failure to do so as a “learning experience.” The larger learning experience would be for City Hall to acknowledge the importance of transparency and openness about its activities on behalf of the city. Taxpayers should expect nothing less.
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By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
New York Times’ Summer Stages Pick
by Charles Ludlam
directed by Aaron Mark
featuring Bill Bowers and Tom Hewitt
at The Fitzpatrick Main Stage, Stockbridge
Previews June 24-June 27
Press Opening/Opening Night: June 28
Talkback: June 30
Closing: July 19
Tickets: Preview: $42
A: $62 B: $52 C: $42
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(STOCKBRIDGE, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 2, 2014) — What happens when Farce meets Theater of the Absurd meets Theater of the Ridiculous? And what occurs when you take this amalgam, throw in cross dressing, gender bending, a spooky dark mansion, a trio of monsters that would make the old Universal Studios proud, and give the nearly panicky script to a director and actors who “get” (no, “Get”) the heart of the play?
ANSWER: THE BTG’s current production of Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep — A Penny Dreadful, as pleasant a look at the oft-unpleasant of personal Identity as you will want to meet … or howl for.
The fun begins with the odd show title. “Irma Vep” is an anagram for “vampire,” while “a penny dreadful” refers to a kind of sensationalistic periodical fiction sold for a penny on cheap paper, popular in 19th century England.
We are already breathless. There’s a vampire, to be sure, plus a mummy (and the inevitable “mummy/mommy” puns) and a werewolf. There’s a lot of deliberately (and creatively) cheap camp that takes “penny dreadful” sensationalism, mainlines it with pure adrenaline, and feeds it coffee for the show’s 90 or so minutes.
Director Mark Lane takes Ludlam’s precisely wild script and put his all, and the production’s all, into what we can best term “pace.” To act out this two-man exhale, Lane gives reign to two of the best, Tom Hewitt (playing Lady Enid, Nicodemus, and Alcazar) and actor/mime Bill Bowers (Lord Edgar, Jane, and An Intruder). Hewitt and Bowers pull off Ludlam-cum-Lane’s conception brilliantly. The pair play adeptly with Ludlam’s feverish dialogue, both actors suitably over-the-top — where they find the rim of the glass always rising just beyond their grasp (otherwise, what is a “reach” for?!)
Costumes (Wade Laboissonniere), lighting (Alan Edwards), and sound (Brendan Doyle) enhance the frenetic and fraught pacing, literally pulled off (and on) by Hewitt and Bowers with the flash-drive costume changes, near-perfect handling of the machine-gun dialogue, and tizzied body language (particularly Bowers).
Set designer Randall Parsons takes a literal approach, rendering the interior of Mandacrest with a cartoonish believability. Perfect touch, as is his stylized renderings of “various places in Egypt.”
The only down side to this romp is that it ended.
“Don’t be blind. You’ve got a thinking mind. Stop the bells that ring so loud. Don’t hang your head you’ll draw a crowd. Just think of everything you’ve worked so hard to bring. The lemon sings my song. He’s known it all along.” — The Bee Gees, “Lemon Song,” from the album, “Horizontal,” (1964).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.