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Berkshire Superior Court Judge Allows Motion To Dismiss Anti-PCB Dump Case In Lee

Signs in Lee, Massachusetts, call for no PCB dumps in the area.
Nancy Eve Cohen
Signs in Lee, Massachusetts, call for no PCB dumps in the area.

A legal challenge against an agreement to dispose toxic waste in Lee, Massachusetts, has been dismissed. That's the ruling of Berkshire Superior Court judge Michael K. Callan.

The suit, brought in March by four Lee residents, claimed the town's select board members unlawfully voted to approve an agreement to clean up the Housatonic River and dispose some of the PCB waste in Lee. The suit was brought against one current and two former select board members.

The suit argued residents should have had the chance to weigh in on the dump, and the board should not have voted in a closed executive session. Such a session is allowed by law if an open meeting would have hurt litigation strategy. The residents' case alleges the cleanup agreement had already been reached, so the board wasn't discussing strategy.

But the judge's ruling said the case didn't present facts to back that up.

The Town of Lee moved to have the case dismissed, claiming the select board's actions didn't violate open meeting law.

Prior to the lawsuit, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office had decided the select board did not have to ratify the agreement in an open meeting. The lawsuit asked for judicial review of the AG's decision.

The PCB waste was released into the river by General Electric when it used the chemical compound to make electrical transformers in Pittsfield from the 1930s until the 1970s.

Judith Knight, the residents' attorney, said they're considering appealing.

In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed shipping all toxic waste dug up from the river to regulated facilities out of state, but a mediated settlement reached in February last year calls for disposing sediment with lower concentrations of PCBs in Lee.  As part of the deal, the town of Lee has received $25 million from GE.

According to the EPA, the proposed disposal facility in Lee will be built to standards that are safe for the highest concentrations of PCBs. The agency considers the chemical compound a likely carcinogen that can cause serious adverse health effects. 

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