July 3, 2011
Editor’s Note: The cleanup of the Housatonic River has reached a critical phase. You may remember that in 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the City of Pittsfield negotiated a consent decree with General Electric (GE) that laid out a clear plan to clean up two miles of the heavily PCB-contaminated portions of the Housatonic River. The parties agreed upon a process to arrive at a cleanup decision for the next long portion of the river south of the confluence of the east and west branches, called the “Rest of the River.”
There is much controversy about how best to clean this portion of the Housatonic. GE has made a slick movie advocating for the “natural recovery” of the river, claiming that a rigorous cleanup would destroy the river to save it — while also claiming that wildlife seem to be flourishing despite any PCBs.
However, the EPA’s peer-reviewed Human Health Risk Assessment and Ecological Risk Assessment show a different picture: A heavily contaminated river that poses a very real threat to public health and the health of the river’s wildlife.
Many parties are attempting to influence the EPA as it tries to figure out a plan for the river. GE’s video has been widely distributed by the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is pressuring the EPA to endorse a limited cleanup. And recently a new super-agency in Berkshire County — a coalition of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, the Berkshire Visitor’s Bureau, and Berkshire Creative — have formed 1Berkshire. The first initiative of 1Berkshire was to form The Smart Cleanup Coalition and try to influence the debate on the Rest of the River. On its Facebook page, the Smart Cleanup Coalition advocates for what it calls “a low-impact clean up of the Housatonic River.”
Although first denying any ties to GE, Michael Daly, the president of Berkshire Bank and one of the founders of both 1Berkshires and the Smart Cleanup Coalition, admitted that 1Berkshire had received $300,000 from GE but he insisted there was no quid pro quo. He insisted that 1Berkshire’s position on the river clean-up, and the launch of the Smart Cleanup Coalition as 1Berkshire’s first public project, was in no way connected to substantial funding from GE.
George Wislocki is the founder of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council and is responsible for protecting thousands of acres of Berkshires land. He is currently on the board of directors of Green Berkshires.
He has given Red Crow News permission to share his letter to Berkshire Bank.
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