Short List: Housatonic River Cleanup Agreement 'Is A Pretty Decent Deal'

Feb 14, 2020

General Electric and several stakeholders reached a deal this week on the next phase of cleaning up toxic waste from the Housatonic River.

GE polluted the river with PCB-laden materials decades ago when it operated a factory in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. 

The agreement calls for the "most contaminated waste" to be sent out of town, but material with "lower levels of waste" will be disposed of locally. As part of the settlement, GE agrees to pay Lenox, Lee, Great Barrington, Stockbridge and Sheffield a total of $55 million. Pittsfield will get $8 million.

"This is a far better alternative to more years of protracted litigation, which would delay the cleanup and extend the uncertainty," said Roger Martella, an attorney for GE. 

Panelist Larry Parnass echoed that takeaway, saying the deal reduces the likelihood of ongoing litigation.

"There are people in the region who still don't like the idea of even one local PCB landfill," Parnass said. "But, you know, it was 20 years ago that the rest-of-river cleanup — beyond the two miles of river that had been dealt with in Pittsfield — was first proposed. And it could have been another 10 years before it began. So this really steps it up. And as many people were pointing out: If you don't like the idea of a landfill, what is the river right now? It is an unlined, unburied landfill containing a million cubic yards of sediments with PCBs."

But one environmental group, the Housatonic River Initiative, is against the deal.

Dave Gibbs of the organization said none of the PCB waste should be disposed of locally.

"My mission is to get rid of it," Gibbs said. "And while we would have liked to have signed it, we can't go along with the toxic dumps, period."

Panelist Ron Chimelis said he's no expert, but he thinks the deal is probably good for Pittsfield.

"If I'm a resident up there, and I hear, 'If we don't do this, there'll be all this litigation,' that almost sounds like a hostage threat type of thing," Chimelis said. "So I'm sympathetic to what they're saying. But the environmentalists, they want a zero-sum option. They want it all. If you want it all, it's going to take forever for that to happen. My gut feeling is this is a pretty decent deal."

Also this week, the Massachusetts contingent of presidential candidates didn't fare well during the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primaries.

Senator Elizabeth Warren finished a distant fourth in the Democratic field with about 9% of the vote. Former Governor Deval Patrick had less than 1% of the vote, and subsequently dropped out of the race. Another former governor, Bill Weld, also had about 9% of the vote in his challenge of President Trump.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued vaping giant JUUL Labs, saying the company targeted minors with its products and created "a youth vaping epidemic."

A spokesman for JUUL said the company plans to work with regulators and public health officials to "combat underage use."

Finally, as baseball spring training got underway this week, the Boston Red Sox completed a trade, sending star outfielder Mookie Betts and pitcher David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Red Sox also this week named bench coach Ron Roenicke interim manager. Former manager Alex Cora parted ways with the team amid baseball's sign stealing scandal. Are the Red Sox in trouble before the season even starts? 

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