Vol. V No. 3 2/1/2024
Reader to Reader
To the Editor:
General Electric Co.'s implementation plan for Housatonic River clean-up recently proposed to the Environmental Protection Agency introduces many unstudied and poorly defined risks to the public health and safety of the towns of Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge that have provoked concerns from their citizens and officials.
One point is clear: EPA insists, and the Tri-Town Health Department concurs, that further delay in the implementation poses increased health risks to the communities along the river.
In its executive summary of EPA's response to comments regarding the draft revised 2020 permit, EPA states on page 9 that "The sooner the cleanup in the Revised Final Permit is implemented, the sooner the risks of exposure to the PCBs in the River will be addressed."
The single most important factor causing delay in the cleanup of the Housatonic river is GE's plan to use trucks instead of railroad. Railroad could start the cleanup before trucks and get the entire job done faster than trucks.
Using trucks could delay the start of excavations because trucks must wait several years for the local landfill to be completed. Trains can start in a year.
Using trucks might make the whole cleanup take longer. Trucks must stretch the cleanup out over 13 years because of the heavy truck traffic required with concurrent excavations. Railroad could implement the cleanup in all reaches at the same time.
Without having objectively studied the time-saving benefits of rail transport and relying only on GE's input, EPA also has asserted, "First, off-site landfilling of all material from the cleanup creates greater risk to human health and the environment because of the potential delay before PCB removal will occur."
On behalf of the future health and safety of our communities, the Tri-Town Health Department cannot emphasize too strongly that EPA should abandon such an unsubstantiated claim and rely on someone besides GE to take a fair look at the use of railroad instead of trucks.
James Wilusz, Pittsfield
Editor's note: Wilusz is a registered sanitarian and the executive director of the Tri-Town Health Department, which represents Lee, Lenox, and Stockbridge. This letter is reprinted from the Berkshire Eagle
To the Editor:
News from ConCom about the town bylaw prohibiting chain link fences if in view of the neighbors, reminded me that I requested that the town replace the chain link fence which they installed (against town bylaws) at the Curtisville old stone bridge.
A wooden fence would be more attractive, legal, and appropriate. For whatever reason the town refused.
I am pleased that the town is seeking a way to restore the stone bridge to be available for pedestrians only. The fact is, they could keep it open for pedestrians now as most of us here would be happy to scamper across and not fear collapse. A local town official commented that the bridge has been there for almost 200 years and is probably going to stay strong for a bit more.
I also proposed installing a wooden walkway atop the ugly steel utility bridge to allow pedestrian access. Everyone I have spoken to agreed that this would be a wonderful solution for now; but the town has stalled while they try to figure out what to do with the bridge.
Hopefully sometime soon we will be able to walk in the neighborhood without hindrance.
To the Editor:
The Town is making progress on Stockbridge Bowl generally and the SBSC specifically on several fronts. Town Administrator Canales has worked closely with GZA and SBA over the past six months to focus the engineering firm on critical tasks related to the permitting of dredging. The Select Board will have an agenda item at an upcoming meeting, where we will discuss a complete reorganization, including stakeholder groups, of the SBSC. Finally, the state has announced an inland dredging grant round, a new opportunity with $4 million in total funding only available to smaller municipalities in the Commonwealth. The deadline for application is March 1. Town leaders are working closely with SBA and have hired a GZA grant writer to assist us in making this deadline.
To Our Neighbors and People of Stockbridge
The property at 9 Lee Road in Stockbridge is owned by Berkshire Gas Company (BGC). Permits are issued to BGC, BGC is responsible to make sure they are being exercised appropriately.
Superior Plus/Osterman are leasing parts of the property.
In November, the Stockbridge Selectmen chose to not issue permits for the unpermitted trucks, partially filled unpermitted propane tanks and 500 gallons of unpermitted methanol. Unfortunately, BGC continues to operate, and there continue to be numerous unresolved issues. These issues include:
1. BGC never applied for, nor received, the necessary permits for the extensive paving and other impervious material that is on the property which adversely affects water runoff in the Kampoosa Bog Area of Environmental Critical Concern (ACEC).
2. The Stockbridge Conservation Commission has asked for more information from Berkshire Gas, but Berkshire Gas has continued to be unwilling to honor the request for additional information.
1. There is an 800-gallon unpermitted, buried tank of Mercaptan on the property. After numerous inquiries, Berkshire Gas refuses to detail the contents, and therefore it must now be assumed that it is full of this highly dangerous liquid.
2. Berkshire Gas is unwilling to produce the details of the removal of this tank to the neighborhood's satisfaction.
3. This tank is an existential threat to our health, and we will be pursuing that its safe removal be supervised by the appropriate State and Town authorities. Berkshire Gas has not demonstrated appropriate behavior in the past. We must not allow the tank's removal to be performed without the appropriate supervision.
1. BGC is operating outside of the scope of the special permits granted to them by the Stockbridge Selectmen in 1973 and 1981. They were authorized for a supplemental gas operation only, due to the proximity of the Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline. Today they are using the property as a Propane Depot which is not what the original permits allowed. This fundamental difference is allowing BGC to operate in our residential neighborhood 24/7/365, as opposed to the 24 days a year that they were granted permission to operate.
2. BGC is also not following the additional conditions that were required of them when granted these special permits.
BGC is counting on the residents of Stockbridge and Lee to forget about their past transgressions. We must not allow this to happen. All property owners must follow our town's governance, including the zoning in our towns.
David and Stephanie Adler
To the Editor:
Copy of the letter from TOWN OF STOCKBRIDGE * STOCKBRIDGE BOARD OF HEALTH to
Mr. Dean Tagliaferro EPA New England, January 19, 2024, via email
RE: Rest of River- General Electric Transportation & Disposal Plan Public Comments Dear Mr. Tagliaferro,
The Stockbridge Board of Health hereby submits this into the public comment record regarding the October 31, 2023, General Electric Proposed Transportation and Disposal Plan.
The Board urges the EPA to consider our public health concerns and ask that G.E. rewrite their proposal as the current proposal is inadequate and incomplete and a missed opportunity to study the efficacy of rail. The October 31, 2023, plan relies heavily, if not exclusively, on transport of PCB laden materials by truck for both on-site and off-site disposal. Although transportation by rail was consistently mentioned favorably in previous iterations of plans for cleanup of the Rest of Housatonic River, the current plan does little beyond raising some objections to use of rail, primarily the need for physical improvements, access to privately owned land, possible increased truck trips, etc., but did not appear to pursue the issue beyond the preliminary studies completed three years ago by the Housatonic Railroad Company. These studies concluded that transport by rail was feasible, including creating rail access to the UDF. Further detailed study of the feasibility of rail is needed, hopefully accompanied by specific proposals.
The apparent defacto exclusion of rail transport in favor of trucks has emerged as a focus of our concerns. We need more information, and particularly comparable information between trucks and rail, regarding emissions, greenhouse gases, air quality, noise pollution, pedestrian and driver safety, recreational opportunities, and overall community health and safety. We note that these are among the issues to be undertaken by the Quality-of-Life Compliance Plan to be submitted to EPA in December 2023. We feel these issues need to be addressed as integral to the Transportation Plan as well.
If gaps in funding are identified with the efficacy of a rail study, we implore our state and federal delegation to identify the federal resources needed to study and implement the use of rail if such a study finds the use of rail feasible. GE's lack of willingness to utilize additional funding is not the sole reason to determine if rail is not feasible.
Having attended the G.E. presentation at the Lee High School on November 28th it is evident that there was not much thought into presenting any information or data regarding studies that should have been done on the environmental impact for our towns.
Berkshire County is a major tourist destination, drawing thousands of people for concerts, stage productions, hiking, camping, boating, leaf peeking, skiing, and general relaxation. The effect of truck traffic on the tourist industry may be significant. Due to exponential increases in population during the tourist season, we have not seen any information on a traffic study that may impact truck transportation during peak seasons. Our concern also extends to the many residents that have voiced their anxiety and fear over the trucks driving past their front yards and children's school playgrounds. The mental health of our residents needs to be counted into the process.
As stated, several times, a safe environment, and the wellbeing of our town residents during this entire remediation is our major concern and needs to be addressed before any further action is taken by G.E.
Furthermore, it is clear that delay in implementing the remediation of PCB contamination in the Housatonic River endangers the public health and safety of our community. We urge the EPA to abandon GE's choice to use trucks because it is obvious that use of railroad will not only enable the implementation to begin earlier than trucks, before the local disposal facility has been completed, but use of railroad will also enable concurrent excavations, thereby speeding the entire implementation process, without the burdens of increased simultaneous truck transport.
We also urge the EPA to extend the deadline for the public comment period (2/1/24) for several months to allow an in-depth study on the efficacy of rail to be completed by an entity other than GE, such as the University of Massachusetts, and an adequate subsequent public review and comment.
Respectfully, Charles Kenny, MD, Chair, John Loiodice, MD, Elias Lefferman, PhD, James Wilusz, RS, Exec Dir -Town Health Department
cc: The Honorable Edward Markey, U.S. Senate; The Honorable Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senate; The Honorable Richard Neal, U.S. House of Representatives; Her Excellency Maura Healey, Governor of Massachusetts; The Honorable Paul Mark, State Senator; The Honorable Smitty Pignatelli, State Representative, 3rd Berkshire; Town Managers; Tri-Town Health Department; Tri-Town Board of Health Members
Editor's note: Since the testimony of, and letters from, Tri-Town Health and others, EPA has directed GE to reopen investigation into transportation - trucks vs. trains.
To the Editor:
Why are we fighting the Rest of the River contract? That is because we don't want PCBs in our river to be taken out and deposited in local landfills or carted out by truck to other places. We DO want the PCBs destroyed!
There is a better way for PCB remediation that eliminates the need to take them out of the river. Therefore, the problem of transporting PCBs elsewhere is eliminated. No trucks or trains needed!
There is tested scientific evidence that there is a viable solution to destroying the PCBs in place and restoring the river.
There are a number of ways to do this. I found one in the NIH Environmental Health Sciences article in Environmental Factor: Nature-based remediation technologies help clean up PCB Contamination, July 2023 (https://factor.niehs.nih.gov)
A second article in Science Direct-Chemosphere, volume 78 Issue 9 Feb. 2010 Extraction of PCBs and water from river sediment using liquified dimethyl ether as a solvent (https://doi/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2009.12.017)
Third article: Science direct Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering, volume 10, issue 3 June 2022 107839 Bioremediation Technologies
These are just a few publications of the information that is out there on PCB remediation. A lot of new studies have been done since the original Rest of the River contract was disputed and could change the terms of the contract.
In addition to that there is a new EPA Rule that will be effective Feb 26, 2024, that could allow for changing the way the river is cleaned of PCBs.
And lastly this is a much cheaper way of handling the cleanup and will not do further damage to the environment. We can move on to the Restoration of the Watershed contract that has already been funded. Connecticut has already done this, and the riverbanks are restored and usable for recreation.
Shirley Franz Miller
As you know, I try to keep up with what's happening in town. Currently I'm confused by the actions of the Affordable Housing Trust. I watched their meeting on Jan. 29, hoping to learn why they plan to spend town funds on a playground and garden at Pinewoods. The status of the project was mentioned near the end of the two-hour meeting, but I didn't think it was a good time to start asking questions. I hope you can explain what's going on and how these actions meet the purpose of the Affordable Housing Trust.
It's a nice gesture to replace the playground equipment at Pinewoods even though the property is owned by Construct, not the town. Under what authority are they taking these actions? Who will be responsible for the maintenance? What is the town's liability? Is this an appropriate use of the undesignated CPC funds in the AHT account?
I read the Declaration of Trust establishing the AHT and I don't understand how these actions meet their purpose to create affordable housing. I am concerned and would like to know if there are any guardrails on their spending.
The most detailed and authoritative answer would come from the AHT Chair, Ranne Warner. Her official town email is: firstname.lastname@example.org. The original proposal for a playground was voted on and approved by AHT. It was approved by Construct to be placed in a footprint identified by them. Warner would know if there was a subsequent AHT vote for an expanded playground or garden and if those were approved by Construct. With respect to "guardrails", Michael Canales would know about Mass General Law, Chapter 30B that governs the procurement of supplies, services, and real property, and if they apply to AHT. His email is email@example.com.
To the Editor:
Housatonic Water Works - The History
There are 850 water users or households served by Housatonic Water Works (HWW). The source is Long Pond. Poor quality water plagued HWW users, spurring broad protests.
The 2020 MA DEP report cited numerous infractions, rendering HWW's "rating should remain [from 2018] as Conditional." In 2021, AECOM Consulting recommended HWW replace its filtration system, its water mains and improve its intake systems. With a price tag totaling $22 million over 20 years, the immediate need to cover $4 million seemed beyond HWW's capabilities.
In 2022, a petition of 1,200 signatories was sent to Governor Baker, the Attorney General, state and local officials of Great Barrington (GB), Stockbridge and W. Stockbridge demanding action.
After continued public protests over "yellow water" and high levels of potentially harmful haloacetic acid, GB's Select Board publicly interviewed representatives of Aquarion (a subsidiary of Eversource) as a possible purchaser. Aquarion set HWW's worth at about $1.8 million. The possibility of an acquisition initially arose in 2018 when Great Barrington's Select Board contracted DPC Engineering to study the issues.
In June 2023, HWW filed for a rate increase with the MA Department of Public Utilities. HWW claimed $4.5 million was needed in order to upgrade their filtration system and make other improvements, resulting in doubling its rate. HWW's rates were already much higher than GB Fire District's as calculated by DPC Engineering. A hearing was held.
In an intervenor's report from Stockbridge's Select Board member, Patrick White pointed out the owners proposed the increase to be in effect even before any improvements were made. It appeared that HWW was unwilling or unable to invest in its infrastructure.
HWW's public financial reports indicated few capital investments for their water system had been made. Further, recent statements showed that nearly 50% of revenues were paid to the two owners in salary and benefits. Virtually no salary dollars remained for operating employees.
The Department of Public Utilities and the Assistant Attorney General for
Energy & Telecommunications can deny the rate increase. Or, MA DPU could mediate a settlement. Moreover, the GB Board of Health has jurisdiction over water quality which has been recently reinforced but not yet exercised.
Clean water must flow, and this standoff must end soon.
Photo: Maarten ven den Heuvel.