Vol. IV No. 9 5/1/2023
The Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee (ROR)
by Josh Bloom
On January 11, 2023, ROR's town-appointed representatives from Stockbridge, Great Barrington, Sheffield, Lee, and Lenox and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) discussed their plans to act as an intervenor against the Housatonic River Initiative (HRI) and the Housatonic Environmental Action League (HEAL) in their First Circuit Court of Appeals case against General Electric (GE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). HRI and HEAL oppose creating a toxic PCB dump in Lee, less than two miles from thickly settled neighborhoods, businesses, and schools.
On March 22, BRPC explained to the Committee: "one of the reasons we filed a separate brief as an intervenor (and not an amicus) was to allow us to participate in oral argument" (source: http://bit.ly/rorprr4-6-23).
The Committee summarized this action as "Approval of Expenditure of Funds" on their March 27 meeting agenda. Public comments took place only before the Committee began discussing to fund intervening against the Berkshires environmental organizations (video: https://bit.ly/ror3-27-23; password: Sba23%&@).
An Open Meeting Law violation complaint was filed against ROR for their March 27 agenda. When the Committee convened to review the complaint on April 13, they didn't allow public comments and refused to record the Zoom meeting. The Lee Representative's motion to allow public comments died for lack of a second. Rather, the Stockbridge representative asked the Chair to mute the public (15:30-17:00 and again at 27:00-27:30 of this permitted recording: https://bit.ly/ror4-13-23).
The Committee's response (http://bit.ly/ror4-13-23response) said: "As advised by counsel, the Committee understands that under the Open Meeting Law, the topics provided on meeting notices must have 'sufficient specificity to reasonably advise the public of the issues to be discussed at the meeting.'...The Attorney General's Division of Open Government (which enforces the Open Meeting Law) generally considers a topic sufficiently specific when a reasonable member of the public could read the topic and understand the anticipated nature of the public body's discussion...Going forward, the Committee's staff will clarify on this type of topic additional details about the nature of the expenditure proposed under consideration by the Committee such as: 6. Approval of Expenditure of Funds for Additional Legal Work on Rest of River Cleanup Litigation."
On April 19, Lee's Select Board sent the Stockbridge Select Board a letter asking "that the Lee Select Board have the opportunity to speak to your Board regarding the ROR situation at an open public meeting this spring." Read the entire the letter at http://bit.ly/leelettertoneighbors
Josh Bloom is a Lee Resident
Photo: Patrick White