February 22, 2017
By Mickey Friedman
So the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDCSB) purchased the PCP and dioxin contaminated former home of New England Log Homes at 100 Bridge Street in Great Barrington committed to create a mix of affordable housing and retail space.
A lofty aim that’s proven difficult to accomplish. Especially after the upscale Berkshire Co-op opted out for a more luxurious development up the block, leaving the CDCSB with the affordable housing piece as its only currently guaranteed income.
So we have 8.2 highly-contaminated acres that need cleaning; a pressing need for affordable housing; and additional land available for development. I know nothing about developing land so I’ll leave that to those developing every inch of what used to be The Best Small Town in America.
We’ll soon have luxury apartments as far as the eye can see. A once upon church that seems determined to reach the sky. And a former firehouse we hope will pleasantly delight us …
I’ve spent decades advocating for the excavation and destruction of toxic PCB soil at the Dorothy Amos children’s playground, the Allendale school, and PCB-filled backyards in Pittsfield. I’ve fought for the treatment of contaminated soil and sediment in the Housatonic River. Sadly, I’ve watched as that waste has been landfilled.
The problem is money. Treatment and destruction is much more expensive than burying or making mountains of waste, like Hill 78 across from Allendale. And because we as a society have squandered our treasure on misguided wars like Vietnam and Iraq and unnecessary tax breaks for corporations and the 1%, we have little left to keep us safe from chemical contamination. And the laundry list of dreadful health effects.
Corporations are more committed to the bottom line than protecting our land and water, and environmental regulators are over-burdened and politically compromised. And so communities up and down the Housatonic will have to live with an incomplete PCB cleanup and, with the impending destruction of the EPA, the increased likelihood of local PCB dumps.
Here in Great Barrington we have two severe toxic sites within blocks of each other: the underground plume emanating from Reid Cleaners and New England Log Homes.
Timothy Snay, CDCSB’s articulate Licensed Site Professional, told residents that either sending contaminated soil to be treated elsewhere, or an on-site technology such as Thermal Desorption would cost close to ten million dollars.
CDCSB has already tried an experimental alternative treatment protocol in an effort to destroy the contamination. While it reduced dioxin levels by approximately 29%, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) put a premature stop to the treatment when neighbors complained about odor and dust.
Between the proverbial rock and a hard place, CDCSB with the renewed blessings of DEP, who favors capping, have developed a plan to prevent exposure at the southern end of the site – the Phase I Development Area for affordable housing – by excavating and moving the contaminated soil from those two plus acres to the area they’re calling the Future Development Area. Placed atop the existing contaminated soil on these five plus acres, this will create a raised bed of about six feet. This will be capped with layers of geotextile or strong plastic and then an additional one foot of clean soil.
So the current site for housing will immediately be excavated then capped, with the five acres to be permanently dealt with when plans are finalized in the future.
All of this is fraught with controversy. Some strenuously object to the siting and design of the housing (its proximity to the Waste Water Treatment Plant and its multi-story configuration); some criticize the CDCSB for not replacing the Co-op with another viable commercial development partner; and some are angry at the very process itself, concerned that the public hasn’t been adequately involved. These are, of course, real concerns.
But now that there’s an active Public Involvement Process for the site, maybe there are ways for these many criticisms to be re-directed as constructive problem-solving. A better design. Help in securing financing for a more viable development.
I’d love it if someone comes up with the ten million to finance a total cleanup of the site. I’d love it if the affordable housing could be moved. I’d love if we could add a combination maker-space, small business incubator, and technical school.
Many of us are used to dealing with General Electric, with its unending brigades of high-priced lawyers, its take no prisoners approach and its policy of accepting absolutely no responsibility for its callous disregard of its workers and the Berkshire community.
But the CDCSB is not GE. Tim Geller and his Board never dipped a single log in PCP. They did not pollute the land. They deserve our help. And ultimately we will all benefit by cleaning NELH, reducing exposure to these toxic chemicals, and making it productive once more.
Mickey Friedman’s Berkshire-based I Ching mysteries, “Danger” and “Folly”, as well as his non-fiction “A Red Family” are available on Amazon.com.