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Berkshire Lawmakers Call On Massachusetts To Join Housatonic River Cleanup Mediation

A warning sign, that was posted in 2016, by opponents to a proposed toxic waste disposal site in the woods, near the Housatonic River in the village of Housatonic, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen
/
NEPR
A warning sign posted by opponents to a proposed toxic waste disposal site in the woods, near the Housatonic River in the village of Housatonic, Massachusetts.

The state of Massachusetts is choosing not to be part of a recently-launched mediation on the cleanup of the Housatonic River. But lawmakers from the Berkshires want the state involved.

State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli said Massachusetts has long supported shipping toxic waste dug up from the river to a facility out of state -- something the towns he represents also want.

General Electric, which polluted the Housatoninc River, wants to dispose the waste in the Berkshires.

Pignatelli is surprised the state isn't joining the mediation.

“They have the environmental expertise to understand the implications of mediation and what the towns are going to be up against,” Pignatelli said. “I think they should have a seat at the table. That does disappoint me.”

State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier said she was concerned when Governor Charlie Baker gave GE tax breaks a couple of years ago to move its headquarters to Boston. 

“Here’s a matter of a long-term health and safety concern, economic development concern, that we have in Berkshire County, and to have Massachusetts not at the table and without explanation is a problem,” Farley-Bouvier said.

The U.S. EPA and GE are paying for the mediation. They'll take part in it, along with six Berkshire communities, environmental groups, one neighborhood group and the state of Connecticut.

While Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has not explained why the state isn’t joining the mediation, it said it is providing factual and legal support to the U.S. EPA.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Previously she served as the editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub, a collaborative of public radio stations. Earlier in her career she was the Midwest editor for NPR in Washington, D.C. Before working in radio, she recorded sound as part of a camera crew for network television news, with assignments in Russia, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba and in Sarajevo during the war in 1992.
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