Vol. IV No. 20 9/15/2023
A Scary Topic: The Rest of River and the Rest of Us
By Bruce Blair
In case you are new to town, years ago General Electric dumped huge amounts of toxic chemical PCBs into the Housatonic River on a routine basis, contaminating the river and creating an ongoing health hazard. It seems that a settlement with the affected parties has been negotiated with GE by a Select Board-appointed group of town representatives called the "Rest of River Committee" (ROR), including Lee, Stockbridge, Lenox, Great Barrington, and Sheffield.
The EPA and GE presented an agreement (in contract form). Lee gets a toxic waste dump site for the PCBs after at least some of the toxic sediment is dredged out of the river, to be buried, encased in plastic. The towns were paid off with GE cash. There are concerns about the safety and effectiveness of dredging. The safer Thermal Desorption River treatment was dismissed by GE and the EPA.
How much did the average citizen know about any of this? Some info was available via the internet and the press. But I think most of it passed most of us by. Was the Select Board told there was no public info to share because litigation was involved? Which court, what case number? Rest of River Committee meeting minutes note that "Executive Session" was invoked, so no information there. Town officials accepted this? And the cash?
I wonder if, maybe someday soon in Stockbridge... Imagine huge dredging equipment chugging and churning along the Housatonic, destroying wildlife habitat, scooping up contaminated sediment. Hundreds of trips made from the towns to the new toxic dump site in Lee, huge trucks full of toxic sludge, clogging traffic on Rockwell's Main St, hurting businesses, changing lives. Imagine breathing the vapor, living with the smell and the noise, wondering about cancer.... Who knows?
Underneath the site of the future plastic-lined toxic dump site in Lee lies an aquifer...
I think we might want to talk about our future in a way that includes reality, data, facts — and The Rest of Us. We are a regional community, we cannot just take the money and run. As citizens we have to speak up and represent ourselves, together, regardless of town lines.
Photo: Lionel Delevingne