BEAT's Bruce Winn provides a presentation on the proposed pipeline to the Pittsfield City Council.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Since incorporating more than 10 years ago, it has engaged with a wide variety of issues impacting the local ecology, but the mission of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team remains unchanged, according to co-founder Jane Winn.
"We're celebrating 10 years of helping people protect the environment," Winn summarized in an interview with iBerkshires. "With a focus on protecting the environment for wildlife, specifically."
"Not that we don't like people," Winn said with a smile. "But people already have a voice, and we hope they use it. Wildlife doesn't."
Technically, the nonprofit turned 10 at the end of 2013, but has been busily overstretched with a landscape of environmental activism that has proved even more demanding as local communities have taken up discussion of the proposed Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline.
"I would have said I had a full-time job before that, and it's just doubled," said Winn of the process of organized opposition to the proposed fracked gas line, which has included a plethora of hearings across the Berkshires, in which Winn and her husband, Bruce, have been major participants.
Winn said BEAT's strategy in opposing the pipeline project is twofold: firstly, to disseminate information and help facilitate action by local residents, and secondly, to watchdog the state's own review of the project.
Representatives of Kinder Morgan, parent corporation of the Tennessee Gas Co., have faced mostly scathing commentary in public meetings on the Northeast project. Thus far, five Berkshire County towns potentially impacted have passed resolutions opposing the pipeline, with the issue still under consideration by four other municipalities.
Winn called all of the arguments that representatives from Kinder Morgan have made in defense of the project "technically true, and completely misleading."
"I don't see any good thing about this pipeline, no matter how I look at it," opined Winn, who is optimistic that opposition to this pipeline may succeed where it has failed in other areas of the country.
"I don't think they've gone through a state before that has as many people up in arms before they've even pre-filed," she concluded. "Sometimes David beats Goliath."
Such David vs Goliath scenarios are nothing new for BEAT, which for years has been intimately involved in the ongoing process of remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the Housatonic River and other local sites. BEAT is one member of the Citizens Coordinating Council, which continues to meet regularly with the state Department of Environmental Protection and federal Environmental Protection Agency as part of the continual, decades-long process of planning and negotiations surrounding the cleanup of PCB contamination created by General Electric's Pittsfield operations.
With regards to their advocacy in the future remediation of the "rest of the river," Winn said BEAT has argued for a more intensive cleanup of this southern stretch of the Housatonic than has been advised by some parties.
"Basically, this is our one chance to get PCBs out of the river," said Winn, who said there are modern dredging technologies that allow for a thorough cleanup without as much disruption as has been portrayed in some scenarios. "I think GE likes to scare us."
Jane Winn makes notes at a hearing on a proposed styrofoam ban last year.
"If the EPA would force them to work small ecosystem by ecosystem, figuring out the best way to be remediating each area, using smaller equipment," Winn suggested, "it may cost them more, but we'd like to see them do a pretty thorough job."
BEAT's activity at the current stage of the process is primarily trying to encourage as much public comment to the EPA on the emerging plans for a cleanup, that by Winn's estimation is still about five years from beginning.
"Whether they agree with us or not, we want to make sure everybody gets heard on this."
EPA will hold a public hearing on a draft modification
to the RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) Permit on Sept. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, and public comments
on the draft permit are being accepted through Oct. 1, 2014.
BEAT's activities involve a wide variety of dealings with a range of other governmental agencies as well.
At October Mountain Forest's Buckley Dunton lake, BEAT is currently working on efforts to convince the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to "cease the use of herbicides to reduce native plant growth."
Other recent projects include working with MassDOT and other private organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and the Housatonic Valley Association to establish safer crossing possibilities for wildlife, from fish to deer, across the local road system.
"It's been a great partnership, and we should have some public presentations coming soon," Winn said.
BEAT has also clashed with local health authorities in Pittsfield over the use of adulticide spraying in mosquito control, according to Winn, who cited concerns not only about the environmental impacts of the pesticides and other chemicals in the spray, but also a lack of evidence of its efficacy in reducing mosquitoes.
"We've yet to see any data supporting the idea that the spraying with the adulticide actually reduces the mosquito population. We know it reduces the dragonflies that prey on mosquitoes," summarized Winn. "Show us some proof that it does any good at all."
In addition to advocating for the environment in political and bureaucratic spheres, BEAT organizes a variety of practical field activities, such as frequent river cleanups held throughout the year since their earliest days.
BEAT also engages in a variety of educational efforts at all age levels, ranging from professional instruction on vernal pool certification to working with young school children at Pitt Park as part of Pittsfield Parks & Recreation's summer. playground program. It also maintains a regular newsletter of local environmental news and related events.
"Really, the biggest success is that we get at least a dozen calls every year," said Winn, "from people who have issues, that ideally we can help them solve."
As part of the formal celebration of their first decade, First Congregational Church in Pittsfield is holding a fundraising concert in support of BEAT, on Sunday at 3 p.m.
The church's house band, which includes Lumsden, and a variety of surprise musical guests will be provide "an afternoon of blues, jazz, rock and soul," followed by a reception to follow. There is no admission, but donations will be accepted to support the organization.
Winn said the benefit thrown by the church is indicative of the general support BEAT has seen from local faith organizations through the alliance of the Pittsfield Area Council of Churches
"For seven years, we have partnered with BEAT in cleaning the Housatonic River and advocating for God's good earth as a deep part of our ministry," said the Rev. James Lumsden. "First Church is committed to being a part of the renewal and health of Pittsfield — and that includes our natural resources as much as our economy. We want to strengthen our community and believe BEAT is essential to the well-being of ALL Pittsfield: animal, mineral, vegetable, water and human."