The Rest of the River working group met on Thursday morning in Stockbridge.
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — A "Rest of the River" working group is nearing the completion of an intergovernmental agreement between six towns as they seek a clean up of the Housatonic River.
The group consisting of representatives from Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Pittsfield, Lee, Lenox and Sheffield continued to hash out an agreement amongst themselves on Thursday morning.
The group has already agreed to hire Pawa Law Group to negotiate a settlement with General Electric, with each town contributing to the cost.
The U.S. Environmental Agency has been working with GE, communities and river shareholders in planning the cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls released by GE in the southern stretch of the river.
On Thursday, the group said expenditures will be reimbursed to the town if a settlement is reached, which is now written into the municipal agreement.
However, if no money comes back to the group then "we all lose," according to Sheffield representative Rene Wood. The settlement does not necessarily have to be cash, the group said, but could be items such as the company building a bicycle path.
The working group has been meeting for a while sorting out the details of the various contracts. Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Nathaniel Karns was voted to serve as the group's chairman, though BRPC does not have a vote.
"We tried to break it into how the group is going to functions in the different stages," said BRPC Planner Lauren Gaherty said.
Each town has one vote among two representatives. The group was formed to look at the impacts of pollutants from General Electric in the Housatonic and not just in the areas when the company had buildings. The river is considered to be an economic engine of the Berkshires — particularly contributing to the tourism industry. But there are also health factors included for those who live here.
GE and the EPA are advocating for a low-impact approach by leaving some PCBs in place; some groups and residents believe a more aggressive cleanup, including dredging and restoring the riverbanks, should be done.
Legal council will still need to review the intergovernmental agreement.