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Mass. AG's office: Housatonic cleanup committee violated open meeting law

The Housatonic River in Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen
The Housatonic River in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Attorney General's office ruled last week that the committee representing five towns in the cleanup of the Housatonic River violated open meeting laws.

The Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee was created to advocate for the towns of Lee, Lenox, Great Barrington, Sheffield and Stockbridge during cleanup negotiations.

The AG's office said an agenda item for a March 27, 2023 committee meeting was not specific enough to advise the public. The item read: "Approval of Expenditure of Funds."

It was for a vote to approve paying the committee's lawyer to prepare and present oral arguments in support of the EPA's river cleanup plan, which faces a challenge in federal appeals court.

The issue is important to Josh Bloom, who lives in Lee, where a PCB disposal site is planned for the Housatonic River cleanup. So he filed a complaint with the AG's office

"I was shocked and bewildered that the committee was voting on something that I was completely unaware was going to be discussed at the meeting," Bloom said. "And this was a fairly significant legal strategy."

The AG's office ordered the committee to re-vote, which it did Thursday morning — 4 to 1 in favor of paying the lawyer. Bob Jones, the town of Lee's representative on the committee, voted against it.

Thomas Matuszko, the executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, who chairs the municipal committee, did not respond to a request for comment.

On Wednesday, the town of Lee appointed Bloom to be its second representative on the Rest of River committee.

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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