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EPA Says Extending Comment Period On Housatonic Cleanup Is 'Not Warranted'

A consumption advisory posted on the Housatonic River, in a file photo.
Nancy Eve Cohen
A consumption advisory posted on the Housatonic River, in a file photo.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has turned down requests to give the public more time to comment on the agency's proposed cleanup of the Housatonic River.

U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, along with Rep. Jahana Hayes, wrote to EPA New Englandlast week asking the agency to extend the public comment period on the cleanup until late November.

The Democratic lawmakers argued that nine weeks isn't long enough. In addition, they wrote that the public has not had the opportunity to "ask questions directly" to the EPA.

Many who spoke at the final public hearing on September 15 said the proposal, which would dispose sediment containing PCBs in Lee, Massachusetts, risked citizens' health and the economy.

Cindy Mathias of Lee said the comment period, during "an unprecedented pandemic," had been rushed through.

"The citizens wanted in-person hearings so that we could face you," Mathias said. "We asked for an extension in order to do so. We already waited 70 years. What's another few months?"

Before that last public hearing the agency posted a notice saying it was "sold out" because so many had signed up to speak.

But that night, many who signed up to speak did not call in, and several who did said they had trouble connecting. That meant there was extra time at the end, which the agency filled for a while by playing music, and then offered additional time to people who had already made comments.

In a letter to the Connecticut lawmakers, Dennis Deziel, the EPA's regional administrator for New England, said the agency "had already extended the public comment period an additional three weeks" and a further extension is "not warranted."

Deziel said the agency "also responded directly to in-person questions" during informational meetings held earlier in the year.

The EPA hopes to finalize its cleanup plan by the beginning of November.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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