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Despite EPA's final permit, Berkshire residents still plan appeals of Housatonic River cleanup plan

A section of the Housatonic River in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where PCB-contaminated sediment was excavated and removed. Some of it was disposed in PCB disposal sites in the city.
Nancy Eve Cohen
/
NEPM
A section of the Housatonic River in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where PCB-contaminated sediment was excavated and removed. Some of it was disposed in PCB disposal sites in the city.

Environmental groups and other opponents to the EPA's cleanup plan for the Housatonic River say they are not done fighting.

The agency issued a final permit for the plan this week, following last month's ruling by an EPA appeals board that the work should move forward.

General Electric polluted the Housatonic with PCBs decades ago when it operated a factory in Pittsfield.

The two groups who lost before the EPA Environmental Appeals Board, the Housatonic River Initiative and Housatonic Environmental Action League, have until the end of May to appeal — this time in the U.S Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Their attorney, Stephanie Parker, said many in the community are strongly opposed to the plan, which was reached in a closed-door mediated settlement. It includes a disposal site in Lee that the EPA said will contain low-level PCB sediment.

"The wide ranging sentiment in the communities that are in that area is so strongly opposed to the remedy that EPA has reached here, in terms of putting a dump near their homes and schools and communities, and continuing to burden these individuals with the pollution that G.E. caused," Parker said. "And we feel strongly that EPA has not reached the right result here."

Another group of Berkshire residents are appealing a Berkshire Superior Court decision to allow a motion to dismiss their case, which argued town officials in Lee should not have agreed to the PCB dump without giving residents the chance to weigh in.

The EPA's New England office said it "has no comments on potential litigation."

G.E. said it can't comment on the appeals.

"We will continue to work closely with EPA, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and local communities and stakeholders to complete the design process now underway and to ensure the successful completion of the cleanup of the Housatonic River,” the company said in a statement.

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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