USA: Discussions About $400 M PCB Cleanup From Housatonic River Scheduled for This Week

Now that the $400 million cleanup of the portion of the Housatonic River that flows through Pittsfield is just about done, it’s time to consider how to restore the rest of the PCB-laden waters flowing through even more sensitive Berkshire areas.

State and federal environmental officials are set to discuss Tuesday the plans to clean more portions of the Housatonic. River restoration efforts already have cleaned a 2-mile stretch of the Housatonic between Newell Street and Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield. The next phase calls for cleaning a 10-mile stretch of river between Fred Garner Park and Woods Pond, which spans the border between Lenox and Lee.

The river was subject to decades of PCB dumping from the GE plant in Pittsfield. The company entered into a consent decree to help rid the river of the chemicals that cause cancer.

Now a new debate has been sparked about how to clean the river as it wends its way through lush Berkshire wildlife areas. There are some outdoorsmen who say dredging would do more harm than good, and environmentalists pushing to use better technology to clean the river with less disruption.

The Tuesday meeting scheduled at Lenox Town Hall will present to the public the draft proposal for the cleanup. During the meeting, state and federal authorities will solicit further public comment and discuss the next round of river restoration work.

The meeting also will reveal various proposals and ideas for projects designed to restore and enhance the Housatonic. Those proposals, which are now part of draft restoration plan, are the result of a public solicitation period that ran from January through May.

The public comment period for the plan — the so-called Draft Restoration Plan and Supplemental Environmental Assessment for the Massachusetts portion of the Housatonic River Watershed — runs until Aug. 23.

The draft plan has been approved by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and it can be viewed online at www.ma-housatonicrestoration.org. Hard copies will be distributed to local Berkshire libraries.

“We’re hoping people will go on the Web link and look at the proposals and come to the meeting,” said Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

MassDEP is co-sponsoring Tuesday’s meeting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Around $1.3 million is available for the next round of restoration work. That money comes from the 2000 settlement with GE, which is expected to pay for most of the roughly $1 billion price tag for the overall cleanup. Around $400 million was earmarked for the first round of the river restoration project, the bulk of which was centered in Pittsfield.

“This is an important milestone in this process, which will help to restore the watershed’s precious resources,” state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said about the release of the draft plan.

In March, GE announced it couldn’t go forward with remedy proposals for the remainder of the remediation project until further evaluation was conducted and more public input was received.

Coletta said it’s unclear when the next round of work would begin.

“It’s contingent upon the projects that are finally funded,” he said.

By Conor Berry (berkshireeagle)

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Source: berkshireeagle, July 26, 2010;

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