South County Residents Urge State For More Aggressive River Cleanup
It was standing room only Wednesday night when the state presented its plan to clean the "Rest of the River."
LENOX, Mass. — The state is standing behind its new plans to clean the rest of the Housatonic River but residents don't think it is going far enough.
Officials from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the Department of Fish and Game and Division of Fisheries and Wildlife presented on Wednesday night plans to excavate Wood Pond and remove pollution from 33 acres of floodplain to a large crowd at Town Hall.
However, the state will not force General Electric, which is responsible for dumping polychlorinated biphynels (PCBs), to alter the riverbanks.
"I like a lot of what you said but I don't like that you won't clean up the rest of the river," local resident Rene Wendell told the panel of state environmental officials. "Those PCBs got to go."
Wendell received boisterous applause for advocating for an aggressive cleanup of the entire river immediately because "in 50 years" there will be nobody to force the company to clean it up.
However, state officials said they are leaving the case open and claim that both the river and emerging technologies will be monitored. The state can later force the company to do additional cleaning.
Housatonic River Advocates 'Occupy' Lenox Town Hall
The rally was spearheaded by the Housatonic River Initiative, which have openly opposed the current plan being presented, along with the newly formed Occupy Berkshires movement. (To read the rest of this story, click here)
"A lot of folks that said they wanted a full cleanup also want innovative technologies," Eva Tor, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said but added that new technologies are not yet developed enough to be used. "We've built in a component for ongoing monitoring, remediation and review."
The most aggressive plan, Tor said, would call for 351 acres dredged, 377 acres of floodplain and 14 miles of river banks to be reconstructed. But that option would cause more damage to the ecosystem than good, say state officials.
"Everyone in this room knows that General Electric caused this pollution and needs to be held accountable for that and to that extent, our remedies and all of the remedies leaves some PCBs in place. It's not because we want to let GE off the hook, it's because after a lot of thinking and analysis and study, we've concluded that there are some incidents where taking the PCBs out will cause more harm than leaving them in," Ken Kimmell, DEP commissioner, said. "We're talking about contaminants being in the presence of some of the most pristine and fragile and ecological valuable portions of the commonwealth."
The officials specifically pointed to the winding of the river as to why the banks should not be touched. The river changes its course over time and that creates various ecosystems. To disrupt those ecosystems and "armor" the banks would be a permanent detriment to the habitats, Kimmell said.
That argument, though, is considered a "straw man" for Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Nathaniel Karns.
"I am a little disappointed, frankly, in using some of the things like armoring the banks. It almost comes across as a straw man. I think within the region we've heard a single voice — except maybe GE — no one wants to see the river armored or the banks stabilized because of the meandering nature," Karns said. "We think an even more appropriate approach would be an active management. Find those experimental treatments, try them in some test areas of reasonable scale and maybe scale them up if they work."
While most of the crowd was pushing the state for more, there were some who approved of the state's ideas.
"I think you guys hit a home run here," one resident said. "It's not often I agree with the state."
The plan is supported by all arms of the state, Kimmell said.
The "Rest of the River" is the most recent portion of a longtime, highly controversial debate — filled with accusations of dirty politics — on how General Electric will clean the PCBs that it distributed into the river from its manufacturing facilities in Pittsfield.
Tags: environment, GE, Housatonic, PCBs, Rest of the River,