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Public comment on lengthy Housatonic River document due Monday

A sign on the Housatonic River in Lee, Massachusetts, advises against eating fish, frogs, turtles and ducks because they are contaminated with PCBs. The advisory is from the from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Nancy Eve Cohen
/
NEPM
A sign on the Housatonic River in Lee, Massachusetts, advises against eating fish, frogs, turtles and ducks because they are contaminated with PCBs. The advisory is from the from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The public has until Monday, Oct. 9, to submit comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a report by General Electric about the Housatonic River cleanup. Some members of the public requested more time, but the EPA said it's not necessary.

The 3,894-pages summarize GE's investigation of ground water, soil and habitat, along with cultural resources like Native artifacts, on a 70-acre parcel near the river in Lee, Massachusetts. The parcel includes 20 acres where a toxic waste disposal site is planned.

GE's former Pittsfield plant, which produced electrical transformers, contaminated the river with PCBs for decades. The company is responsible for cleaning it up.

At a public meeting last month, some requested hard copies — given broadband issues in Berkshire County — and an extension of the deadline. The EPA delivered a hard copy to Lee Town Hall, provided an on-line summary, but did not give more time for comments.

Dean Tagliaferro, EPA's project manager of the Housatonic site, said there's no reason to give more time.

"This document, although it's a lot of data, is not that complex technically. So it really wasn't warranted," he said.

Jane Winn of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team plans to comment on the report. She said she wants more clarity on how the planned disposal facility will be designed to protect ground water.

"The groundwater depth is extremely variable and we're getting such weird climate changes that I want to make sure that they're explaining clearly their thinking on keeping it well above the groundwater level," she said.

Winn also wants to limit tree-cutting on the parcel, especially where there is a dense forest and a vernal pool.

The EPA is also asking for public comments in December and January on another four documents, including one that specifies where — and how much — soil and sediment will be excavated from the river in Pittsfield.

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.