BRPC's Executive Committee is giving a positive recommendation on the draft agreement.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — An intergovernmental agreement between planners and six Berkshire towns is set to be completed as the towns move toward litigation with General Electric over contamination in the Housatonic River.
The Rest of the River group consists of representatives from Pittsfield, Lee, Lenox, Sheffield, Great Barrington and Stockbridge. Each municipality is contributing an initial $10,000 to hire Pawa Law Group to lead the negotiations. Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is serving as the financial agent for the group.
On Thursday, BRPC's Executive Committee gave a positive recommendation on what is nearly the final draft of an agreement outlining the procedures.
If a settlement is reached, the towns will first be reimbursed the money they put toward the litigation and the rest will be voted by a super majority — meaning five out of the six towns must approve the disbursement. There is a minimum of 5 percent for each town. All issues regarding the negotiating position also requires a super majority vote.
"We don't know the extent of the cleanup yet. You don't know how much the damages are going to be in given communities," BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns said.
The disbursement may not be strictly money, Karns said, adding that there are other forms of compensation such as access, bike paths or other type of improvements that company could try to negotiate. There is also the possibility that the group does not receive any compensation and in that case, they all lose everything they put into the negotiations.
However, if a landfill is proposed in the county for the cleanup, the entire committee must approve it.
"If one is even considered, everybody needs to be on board," said Karns, a clause he said the town of Lee insisted on because of the likelihood that it would be the host.
Each town has an opportunity to opt out of the lawsuit but the group would then have the ability to vote what type, if any, compensation they get. Karns said the group wanted to remove language that said a community that walks away would forfeit its rights. The group is also subject to open meeting law.
The full commission needs to approve it but the Executive Committee provided its recommendation on the current draft. Karns said there is only a small amount of wordsmithing remaining but nothing substantial. The final tweaks will be done by the Rest of the River group next week for BRPC's approval.
The Executive Committee is also providing a positive recommendation on the contract with Pawa that breaks down hourly rates for each attorney that could be involved in the process. Ranging from $250 an hour to $400, BRPC says the rates are at a significantly reduced price.
The Boston-based law firm has worked in the Berkshires before and has represented clients such as the state of New Hampshire.
In other business, the committee approved submitting comments to the state Department of Environmental Protection regarding changes to hazardous waste disposal laws. BRPC said they have concerns with hauling and infrastructure not being up to par for proper disposal and added that the laws did not prohibit disposal of waste in water.
They also weighed in on a planned reconstruction of Housatonic Street in Dalton. BRPC is recommending that sidewalks are added to the project in some parts of the roadway, which are not planned. Additionally they are asking the town to be prepared for speeding.
Beyond the project itself, the committee expressed frustration with that they are asked to weigh in on environmental concerns only after the state Department of Transportation has already designed the project. They called for writing a letter to various state agencies asking that they have a chance to review the environmental concerns at an earlier stage of the design.
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