Jul 17 2008


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Secretary Bowles Designates Upper Housatonic River as Area of Critical Environmental Concern
MA Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs
March 31, 2009

The Upper Housatonic River and its surrounding area – a region of the Berkshires comprising 12,276 acres in Lee, Lenox, Pittsfield, and Washington – was today approved by Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Ian Bowles as the Commonwealth’s 30th Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The new designation promises greater protection for the region’s unique natural and cultural resources.

The new ACEC includes a 13-mile corridor of the Housatonic River, adjacent floodplains, tributary streams, and the western slopes of October Mountain State Forest. It augments more than 2,000 acres within two other ACECs – Kampoosa Bog Drainage Basin and Hinsdale Flats Watershed – in the towns of Lee and Washington.

“During the extensive public process that led up today’s designation, my office heard from hundreds of Berkshire residents, organizations and public officials,” Secretary Bowles said. “The community and regional support for this ACEC was overwhelmingly positive, and this designation will help create an important framework for the long-term preservation and stewardship of these outstanding resources.”

Today’s ACEC designation concludes a public review process that began when Secretary Bowles accepted the ACEC nomination for full public review on September 29, 2008, after 43 citizens submitted the nomination to EEA. Since then, the Secretary’s office has sought public input and advice from natural and cultural resource experts. To inform residents about the ACEC nomination process, EEA held a series of public meetings in October, followed by a Lenox public hearing in January that drew more than 200 people including residents, municipal officials, and representatives of local businesses, environmental and sportsmen’s organizations. Throughout the nomination process and comment period, residents of the four communities and environmental organizations voiced strong and thoughtful support in favor of designation.

Read the Press Release online.

Good Call on ACEC
The Berkshire Eagle
March 20. 2009

Declaring the Housatonic River an “area of critical environmental concern,” as Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles is prepared to in the next few days, will be instrumental in assuring that the river receives a cleanup that is in keeping with its fragile nature as it winds through Berkshire County. The cleanup may not come as quickly as it would have otherwise, but it is more important that the cleanup be done the right way …

In a meeting with The Eagle Thursday, Mr. Bowles said he was not concerned that GE might use the ACEC to implement a less rigorous and cheaper agreement. We are concerned about that possibility, as well as the possibility that the federal EPA, which had asked that it be excluded from the ACEC, a request that Mr. Bowles indicated Thursday will not be accommodated, could bring in the government lawyers. Either of these eventualities could delay a river cleanup considerably.

Those concerns, however, don’t change the fact that granting of the ACEC designation is the right call. First and foremost, this cleanup must be done properly, and ACEC designation will help assure that it is.

EPA doesn’t make case
The Berkshire Eagle
February 17, 2009

The proposal to designate much of the Housatonic River region as it flows through the Berkshires as an area of critical environmental concern is coming under assault, most recently and significantly from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The arguments against the ACEC have been purely speculative, based on unspecified fears about what may happen if the designation is awarded. The arguments in favor of the ACEC have been tangible, supported by precedent and the specific nature of the protections built into the designation.

The EPA has asked the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to exempt it from any restrictions under ACEC, which if granted would make the ACEC irrelevant. In a letter to the state, the EPA, whose Boston office has declined to comment, argues that the designation may restrict its efforts to protect human health and the environment. This assertion is groundless, as the ACEC is in fact designed to ensure the best possible cleanup for affected residents and the environment. What worked in Pittsfield will not work for this region of the Berkshires, and it was General Electric’s one-size-fits-all proposal for the cleanup of the river south of Pittsfield that prompted environmental groups and agencies and governmental bodies around the Berkshires to support ACEC.

Pittsfield has asked that a wastewater treatment plant and a reservoir be excluded from ACEC, and a private company has expressed concern in Lee. However, Save the Housatonic has found several examples of communities around the state where far larger ACEC designations have caused no difficulties for communities. Opponents have not made their case.

We again urge the state to put the proposed 12,000 acres under ACEC designation, with no exemption for the EPA. Once done, we expect the EPA to abide by it.

ACEC worked for Hinsdale
Letter to the Editor
The Berkshire Eagle
February 17, 2009

In 1991, our bucolic little town was approached by a Florida “developer” who tried to ramrod into being a huge landfill project that, by his own estimation, would have brought in 3,500 tons of garbage a day by truck and rail onto land this above the headwaters of the Housatonic River.

The only thing that stopped this nightmare from becoming a reality was an ACEC designation given to the whole impacted area by the state’s then-secretary of environmental affairs, Susan Tierney.

Although Hinsdale’s situation then was quite different from Lenox and Lee’s present situation, I can only speak most highly for what the designation did for us, and everybody else downstream. The only person who was inconvenienced was the aforementioned developer.


EPA wants exemption order
Jack Dew
The Berkshire Eagle
February 15, 2009

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked the state to exempt it from any new restrictions that would come if the Housatonic River is declared an area of critical environmental concern, upsetting conservation groups that have fought for the designation in an effort to reassert a local voice into a looming PCB cleanup.

In a letter submitted to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the EPA said the area of critical environmental concern — or ACEC — designation could hinder efforts to remove PCBs from the river. The federal agency pointed to several instances in Massachusetts where the ACEC’s rules have been eased to clear the way for a cleanup.

Demand that EPA support ACEC
Letter to the Editor
The Berkshire Eagle
February 9, 2009

The federal EPA has sent a letter to the state’s environmental secretary, Ian Bowles, asking for its upcoming clean- up of the Housatonic River to be exempted from the Area of Critical Environmental Concern designation. The message is clear: we are the EPA, trust us to do the right thing, we hope to ignore the ACEC, but, in case we can’t, we want you to exempt us from all its conditions.

Of the four communities with portions of land within the nominated Upper Housatonic River ACEC, two, Pittsfield and Lee, are seeking exemptions, too. Pittsfield wants its wastewater treatment plant and the Farnham Reservoir to be exempted. Lee wants industrial properties along Woods Pond to be exempted.

During the past 34 years, ACECs have been designated in 73 other cities and towns in Massachusetts. If ACECs restricted economic development or public works operations, the program would have withered years ago. Groton is almost completely inside two ACECs which cover 88 percent of its total area. Within those ACECs, Groton has its town center, and commercial and industrial zones. A waste disposal plant is also included. The town of Pepperell upgraded and expanded its wastewater treatment plant within an ACEC.

More than 900 people have signed online and paper petitions asking Secretary Bowles to designate the Upper Housatonic River ACEC without changes. Numerous sportsmen, recreation, and environment groups representing thousands of people have expressed support.

The EPA’s clean-up plan for the first two miles of the Housatonic turned a river into an industrial sluice. While it says the same fate won’t befall the rest of the river, the plans it is considering don’t look much better. The ACEC could be our last chance to restore more power to the state.

If you want Secretary Bowles to designate the Upper Housatonic River ACEC and demand that the EPA abide by the state’s protective ACEC regulations, please sign our petition at www.SaveTheHousatonic.org.

Please contact the secretary’s office, care of the ACEC director, Liz Sorenson ( 617) 626- 1394, elizabeth. sorenson@state.ma.us . The deadline for public comment is today. Please act now!

The writer is a member of Save The Housatonic.

ACEC status for river
The Berkshire Eagle
January 31, 2009

Environmentalists, officials and concerned citizens have succeeded in making the case for granting the Housatonic River and about 12,000 surrounding acres a special environmental designation and the state should grant it without hesitation. With the federal Environmental Protection Agency expected to announce its cleanup plan for the river below Pittsfield some time this spring, this designation will offer protection against the plan should it be little or no better than the cure.

Save the Housatonic, a coalition of environmental and conservation groups, wants the river and surrounding land in Pittsfield, Lee, Lenox and Washington to be defined as an area of critical environmental concern, or ACEC. At a well-attended hearing Thursday night, groups like the Berkshire Natural Resources Council and the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen expressed concern that the original PCB cleanup plan offered by General Electric could do considerable harm to the river and nearby acreage. While the EPA showed no enthusiasm for the GE plan, concerns that the agency won’t adequately protect the river or consider alternative cleanup methods spurred the pursuit of an ACEC designation.

What succeeded as a cleanup strategy for the river and its banks in urban Pittsfield won’t work for the remainder of Berkshire County, yet GE offered a one size fits all proposal that failed to take these dramatic differences into consideration. It included significant dredging and even a landfill, a non-starter given the controversy over the landfill in Pittsfield’s Allendale neighborhood. The potential impact of such a cleanup on Lenox residents prompted the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board to recommend granting of the environmental designation last week.

Concerns were expressed at Thursday’s hearing that the ACEC designation would hinder economic development within the area, but we see the designation as another line of defense against inappropriate development. Business and industry that already pass muster with boards and agencies with jurisdiction in this area should have no trouble satisfying the requirements of the ACEC.

This pristine section of the Housatonic River, with its appeal to fishermen and sportsmen, its importance to migratory birds and other forms of wildlife, its natural beauty and environmental significance, personifies what the Berkshires mean to residents and tourists alike. It more than deserves this extra level of protection in light of the potential impact of a cleanup, and we urge the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to provide it, and without delay.

Read the editorial online.

Crowd backs river status
Jack Dew
The Berkshire Eagle
January 30, 2009

With a final burst of public comment, proponents and opponents of granting the Housatonic River a special environmental designation made their case to state officials Thursday night, a final step in the months-long process.

More than 175 people filed into the auditorium of Lenox Memorial High School to address whether the Housatonic should be named an “area of critical environmental concern,” or ACEC. The state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs will now weigh the application and issue a decision within 60 days.

Read the article online.

Lenox officials back river plan
Trevor Jones
The Berkshire Eagle
January 29, 2009

In advance of a state hearing on the matter tonight, Lenox officials voted Wednesday to support a proposed environmental designation for the Housatonic River.

The town’s Board of Selectmen and Planning Board voted unanimously to support a proposal by a group of environmentalists to have an area of the Housatonic River designated an area of critical environmental concern, or ACEC.

Read the article online.

A threat to Housatonic designation
George Darey
Letter to the Editor, the Berkshire Eagle
January 27, 2009

The boundaries of the ACEC were drawn based on careful study of how best to protect the river and its neighbors. Biologists, environmental groups and users of the river contributed their knowledge. But now a few powerful people want to chisel the boundaries for their own interests, and they are working hard behind the scenes to weaken the ACEC nomination.

The boundaries should not be changed. Any industrial project along the river should be open to scrutiny. The number one concern of public officials in south Pittsfield, North Lenox, Lenoxdale, Lee and the town south of Woods Ponds should be the health, safety and welfare of their citizens. People should know about projects being considered that could affect their homes, their health and their river, and they should have input into the considerations. These projects should not be excepted from the ACEC boundaries.

Download a PDF copy of the letter.

Untested Waters: Labeling the river
Jack Dew, the Berkshire Eagle
October 22. 2008

As communities and advocacy groups pursue a special designation for the Housatonic River, they are entering untested waters, federal regulators say, where no one is certain how the new designation would affect a coming cleanup.

Last night, state officials gathered in the Town Hall to brief the public on the nomination of the Housatonic as an “area of critical environmental concern,” or ACEC.

The state designation is being sought by Save the Housatonic, a coalition of conservation groups concerned that a PCB cleanup led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and performed by General Electric will do irreparable harm to the river’s delicate — and polluted — ecosystem.

Read the article online.

Toxic pollution, destructive cleanup?
David Scribner, Hill Country Observer
October, 2008

The implicit conflict between cleanup and restoration was the subject of a daylong “Future of the Housatonic” conference in late September, sponsored by the Housatonic River Initiative. More than 100 representatives from environmental groups, the EPA and GE gathered at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Pittsfield to hear presentations by five engineering and conservation firms specializing in river restoration projects.

Just two weeks before the conference, the EPA had declared GE’s proposal for cleaning up the river south of Pittsfield to be “inadequate.” In particular, the agency criticized GE’s strategy, which relies on dredging the river and capping polluted sediments with sand. The EPA said the company had failed to address the impacts its cleanup methods would have on the river’s ecosystems and recreational resources.

Download the article.

State considers new protection status for Housatonic
Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle
October 4, 2008

The state has agreed to consider a proposal that could bring an extra level of environmental protection to thousands of acres along the polluted Housatonic River.

The Executive Office of Environmental and Energy Affairs has set four public meetings this month to consider whether 12,280 acres of land along the Housatonic should be designated an “area of critical environmental concern,” or ACEC. Proponents of the designation say it will give the state greater say in a looming PCB cleanup …

The state Office of Environmental and Energy Affairs will hold public meetings to discuss naming the Housatonic River an “area of critical environmental concern.”

October 21 – Lenox Town Hall, 7 p.m.
October 22 – Pittsfield City Hall, 7 p.m.
October 28 – Lee Town Hall, 7 p.m.
October 29 – Washington Town Hall, 7 p.m.

Read the article online.

Cleanup Challenged
Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle
September 10, 2008

After months of delay, federal regulators have responded to General Electric’s proposed cleanup of the Housatonic River, demanding a plan that tackles the river’s heavy PCB pollution while protecting its sensitive habitat and endangered species.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent its 39-page letter to GE yesterday, nearly six months after it received the company’s proposal for the stretch of Housatonic known as the “rest of river” — running from the confluence of the east and west branches in Pittsfield, through South County to the Derby Dam in Connecticut.

“Cleaning up the portions of the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield is one of the most significant environmental challenges for this generation of New Englanders,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office in an announcement yesterday afternoon.

While it will be “complicated and challenging” to remove PCBs from the river while protecting its “aesthetic and recreational values,” Varney said, “we can all agree that we need to do this work and get it right.”

Read the article online.

Seeking a better cleanup
Berkshire Eagle editorial
September 10, 2008

We applaud the federal Environmental Protection Agency for demanding a cleanup of the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield that doesn’t destroy the river and surrounding land in order to save it. The route to this solution is far from clear, but the EPA’s demand for major changes to General Electric’s proposal for the cleanup constitutes a good beginning.

It is clear that the EPA paid heed to the concerns of Berkshire residents and environmentalists in demanding yesterday that GE make more than 150 revisions or additions to the plan. GE spokesman Peter O’Toole observed that all the stakeholders in the cleanup must work collaboratively and that is what it will take to produce the best cleanup of the river.

The Consent Decree reached in 2000 produced a PCB cleanup of the Housatonic in Pittsfield and various sites around the city that have helped the former “GE town” move forward into an era in which a variety of businesses and culture will be its lifeblood. The cleanup of the first two heavily polluted miles of the river in Pittsfield was not pretty but it was appropriate for an urban river.

The next stage of the cleanup, extending from Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield through south Berkshire County to Connecticut, goes through some of the most rural and beautiful regions of the Berkshires and requires a dramatically different strategy. GE’s original plan submitted in March was little different from its cleanup in Pittsfield, and that process won’t work through the rest of the Berkshires.

Read the editorial online.

Save the Housatonic
Jay Baver, On The Water: The Angler’s Guide to New England
September 2008

The secret was out: The Housatonic River has been reborn into a tremendous fishery. The Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife has said they consider the area from New Lenox Road in Lenox to Woods Pond in Lenoxdale to be the second-best warm-water fishery in the Commonwealth. The area below the dam in Lenoxdale has since been made catch-and-release only, and it is now stocked with trout. People from all over New England are utilizing it and learning about its world-class fishing. Right below the dam at Woods Pond, I have caught brown trout, rainbow trout, tiger muskie, northern pike, perch, largemouth and smallmouth bass, rock bass, and carp.

The reason I’m writing about this now is that the stretch of river that I hold in the highest regard as a fishery is at stake. General Electric has agreed to clean the river of PCBs, which you may think is a good thing, but the way in which they do it is critical if the integrity of the fishery is to be maintained. General Electric’s cleanup of the first contaminated portion of the river in Pittsfield has created a sluiceway with riprap banks and very little fish-holding structure. The bottom of the river was excavated with little regard to the maintenance or support of a fishery. If General Electric cleans the next portion of the river in the same way, the entire fishery will be devastated.

Download the article.

Local group petitions for special designation for Housatonic River
Michael Kelley, Berkshire Record
August 22, 2008

A group of environmentally minded individuals from the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen, the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, Green Berkshires and the Massachusetts Audubon Society, are teeming up to bring an added sense of protection to the Housatonic River.

Download the article.

Housatonic PCB Cleanup Coalition moves to preserve river
Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle
August 8, 2008

“LENOX — Seeking a stronger local voice in the cleanup of the Housatonic River, a new coalition of conservation groups last night unveiled plans to seek a special designation for the heavily polluted river.

The group — Save the Housatonic — will nominate the river as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, or ACEC. If successful, the designation would add conservation standards to a 12.9 mile stretch of river and roughly 1,300 surrounding acres, likely requiring special permission from the state for any dredging or landfill within those boundaries.

Read the article online:

ACEC would be aces for Berkshire waters
Gene Chague, Columnist, Berkshire Woods & Waters
Berkshire Eagle
July 27, 2008

The recent news that the newly-formed organization called Save the Housatonic is attempting to establish an area of critical environmental concern in the Housatonic River watershed comes as good news to local sportsmen and conservationists.

Download the entire column.

New conservation group seeks protective designation for Housatonic
Carrie Saldo, WAMC
July 23, 2008

Lenox, MA. There’s a push by four conservation groups in the Berkshires to designate the PCB polluted upper Housatonic River an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. And WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief, Carrie Saldo, reports on why such a determination would be a first.

Listen to the report online.

Conservation groups seek special label for Housatonic
Kevin Moran, Berkshire Eagle
July 21, 2008

PITTSFIELD — Several conservation groups are seeking a special environmental designation for the upper stretch of the Housatonic River, a move that could shape the PCB cleanup and restoration by giving the state a larger say in the process.

If successful, the state designation — called an Area of Critical Environmental Concern — would also add a layer of conservation standards, raise the levels of environmental review and encourage stewardship of the nearly 1,300-acre parcel.

It would also bar dredging the river and landfilling the contaminated soils on the site without a state-granted waiver. This alone would prompt rethinking the cleanup and restoration methods like those carried out in the Housatonic in Pittsfield, according to Save the Housatonic, an organization comprised of the Berkshire League of Sportsmen, Berkshire Natural Resources Council, Green Berkshires Inc., and Massachusetts Audubon Society. The group plans to unveil its plan at a public meeting on Thursday, Aug. 7, at 7 p.m., in the Lenox Town Hall.

Read the article online:

Seeking a better cleanup
Editorial, Berkshire Eagle
July 21, 2008

The proposal by Save the Housatonic, a coalition of four Berkshire environmental groups, to seek a special designation for the Upper Housatonic River that will raise the standards for the anticipated cleanup, has considerable potential given the growing consensus that General Electric’s plan is inadequate. This designation would give the state a role in the process, a role it should be willing to play.

Save the Housatonic is seeking an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) designation for a roughly 1,300-acre parcel that encompasses the river south of Memorial Park in Pittsfield to roughly two miles south of Woods Pond in Lenox, and includes October Mountain to the East. The environmental review standards would be raised and ideally, consideration would be given to possible alternative cleanup methods, as well as the impact of the cleanup on wildlife and even the proposed bike trail through Pittsfield and Lenox.

Read the editorial online:

A ‘ditch’ runs through it
Some critics wonder whether the cleanup of the Housatonic River is doing more harm than good
Beth Daley, Boston Globe
July 14, 2008

PITTSFIELD – Everyone agrees that the Housatonic River needs to be scrubbed clean: So many toxic chemicals were dumped into the 150-mile-long waterway that it has become one of the nation’s filthiest.

But many in the region are recoiling from the restoration of the first 2 miles. Sloping river banks were lined with a wall of gray rocks to prevent erosion of polluted soil. Mature, leafy trees were cut down to make room for excavation equipment. Contaminated river sediment was dug out and hauled to landfills, prompting concerns the problem was simply moved somewhere else.

“They turned a free-flowing river into an industrial ditch,” said George Wislocki, founder of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

Read the article online.

Download complete article.

Groups urge using latest technology for Housatonic PCB cleanup
Associated Press
June 30, 2008

PITTSFIELD – A group of community organizations from the Berkshires is urging federal regulators to take a fresh approach to removing PCBs from the Housatonic River.

The group, calling itself the Housatonic Clean River Coalition, wrote to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggesting that the cleanup be conducted in phases using the latest technology.

Download complete article.

Coalition urges fresh take on PCB cleanup
Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle
June 30, 2008

A new coalition of 34 community groups and individuals is urging federal regulators to take a fresh approach to removing PCBs from the Housatonic River, adding their voice to a growing cry for a cleanup that avoids invasive dredging and excavation.

In a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the group calling itself the Housatonic Clean River Coalition proposed several “principles for a better cleanup” and urged the agency to use the newest technology to clean the PCB-polluted river.

Read the article online.

PCBs still plague Housatonic River
John Burgeson, Connecticut Post
June 22, 2008

There are three letters that always come up whenever the Housatonic River is discussed. The letters are PCB, which stands for polychlorinated biphenyls — a group of about 200 related compounds that have come to define the Housatonic and its future for decades to come.

Download complete article.

We, The People: Taking Back Our River!
Benno Friedman
Op-ed, Berkshire Eagle
May 2, 2008

General Electric’s recently publicized plans have gotten people angry, and rightly so. When The Consent Decree was initially unveiled, we were asked to put aside our objections, to trust “the experts,” and we obliged. In hindsight, it was a mistake. One needs to look no further than Hill 78; a terrible solution for and an unnecessary imposition on our region. And nearby is the two miles of remediated river that bears little resemblance to the river of only a few years ago. Perhaps it’s time for the experts to make room at the table.

Download complete op-ed piece.

Destroying a river to clean it
Editorial, Boston Globe
March 30, 2008

FOR DECADES a GE factory complex in Pittsfield leaked polychlorinated biphenyls – suspected carcinogens better known as PCBs – into the Housatonic River. Under a consent decree with the US Environmental Protection Agency, the company has already dredged a couple miles of the river downstream from the plant to remove the chemicals, and it has more cleanup work to do.

Now GE is proposing even more intensive dredging for the next 5 miles, a stretch that winds through an Audubon sanctuary and a state wildlife preserve. Even advocates of getting the PCBs out of the river are asking whether GE is destroying a village to save it.

Download complete editorial.

Eco-imagination a bust
Benno Friedman
Op-ed, Berkshire Eagle
March 28, 2008

The audience was treated to a numbing series of charts and graphs, a product of computer modeling and technical wizardry. As the laser pointer directed our attention to the differences between SED3 and SED 8, it was hard to remember that the projections were really about living people and animals, about future generations, about PCB’s impact on entire ecosystems and species, about how much sickness and how many deaths were acceptable. One needed to remind oneself that it was not about providing us with the best cleanup and the best technology currently available. The unmentioned subtext is about maximizing GE’s profits.

Download complete op-ed piece.

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