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Sue Bush
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Fred Garner Park Re-Opened

By Jen Thomas
05:29PM / Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Fred Garner Jr. and Tim Garner attended the re-opening of the Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield today.[Photo by Jen Thomas]
Pittsfield – Mayor James M. Ruberto and representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and General Electric Co. announced the reopening of Fred Garner Park this morning, more than two years after river cleanup efforts closed the park in January 2005.

"What we’re kicking off really is the completion of the 1 1/2 mile remediation that has taken place, and there's no better place to have a celebration than Fred Garner Park," said Ruberto in his opening remarks.

GE, in collaboration with the EPA, launched an $83 million campaign to rid the stretch of the Housatonic River from the Lyman Street Bridge to the park of PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls, an outlawed chemical believed to cause cancer and developmental disabilities}. GE's Pittsfield plant used the chemical until 1977, when it was banned, and in 2000, the company agreed to comprehensive remediation and restoration of the Housatonic River.


The Housatonic River passes through the Fred Garner Park.[Photo by jen Thomas]
The park reopening, which benefited from the cleanup by receiving mild changes, highlights the partnership between public and private entities.

"We’re so pleased and proud of the fact that EPA, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the city, GE, PEDA and everyone have worked together in such a professional, cooperative and collaborative way," said Robert W. Varney, EPA’s New England regional administrator.

"I wish I had a nickel for every glib person I've heard say government can’t accomplish anything, or private companies don’t want work with government to accomplish anything, or municipal government can’t get anything done," said Stephen D. Ramsey, GE’s vice-president of environmental programs.

"There is a need in this country, and elsewhere, to recognize the strength and the value of public/private partnerships," he said.

"It's critical for all of us not to be cynical about relationships between industry and business or industry and other special interest groups, because government must be engaged with each and every group and party in order to advance the interests of making the community a better place to live in," said Ruberto.

Fred Garner

Nestled on approximately 10.3 acres, Fred Garner Park now boasts an expanded youth soccer field, a new roadway and parking area, a canoe launch, a walking path along the riverbank, and 1,200 newly-planted trees and shrubs.

Garner's sons Timothy Garner and Fred Garner Jr. said the park was a huge improvement over what it once was.

"We used to call this the pumping station," said Timothy Garner, who lives in Cheshire. "There were parties down here, and it was really run-down."

"Now, they’ve got it all cleaned up and it’s a really big difference," he continued.

"It’s a great tribute to a guy who was committed to his community," said Fred Garner Jr., who lives Pittsfield.

According to Ruberto, Garner "did what we do in the Berkshires – try to improve the quality of life."

Garner worked for the Parks and Recreation department for over 32 years and was co-founder of Wild Acres, a 49-acre preserve in the city that serves as a recreational area for picnicking, fishing, and hiking.

"It's a great place in honor of a great man, a person who served this community so well and a person who has received from the city of Pittsfield the recognition he truly deserves by having this park named after him," said Ruberto.

More To Do

"We know there is still so much that needs to be done and we remain focused on the job at hand to continue our cleanup and to do so in a cost-effective and environmentally sound manner," said Varney.

"A huge amount has been accomplished, but we all recognize that more needs to be done," said Ramsey.

The EPA and GE will continue to dredge the remaining portions of the river downstream of Fred Garner park, where the east and west branches merge. Named the “Rest of River” segment, future PCB removal efforts will concentrate on downstream portions of the river in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Celebrating the success of the Fred Garner Park reopening emphasizes the continuing need to work together.

"In the spirit of partnership, we will continue to look for opportunities like Fred Garner Park, where we can improve the environment and protect public health while enhancing community assets simultaneously," said Varney.

Jen Thomas can be reached via e-mail at jthomas@iberkshires.com or at 1-413-663-3384 ext. 29.
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