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A look back at some of 2022’s biggest headlines from Berkshire County

Josh Landes
/
WAMC

With the year drawing to a close, we’re reflecting on some of the biggest headlines from Berkshire County in 2022.

In Adams, January brought news that a final, almost $3 million tranche of state funding had at last green-lit the Greylock Glen project, turning dreams of creating a multipurpose facility and campus at the foot of Mount Greylock first hatched in the 1970s into reality.

“For the past several years, the town has worked diligently to advance this exciting project, especially the design construction of a 10,000 square foot outdoor site," said Adams select board chairperson John Duval. "A multipurpose building that will welcome visitors for outdoor recreation and environmental education activities, essentially serving as a base camp for visitors to both the glen and Mount Greylock state reservation. The Outdoor Center is a critical initial component for the town's proposed Greylock Glen resort, envisioned as a four-season recommendation environmental education destination. The project is intended to serve as a catalyst for the economic growth of Adams and the Northern Berkshires.”

A groundbreaking for the center was held in August.

In March,the EPA approved the final permit for a controversial plan to cleanup the Housatonic River in communities along the waterway.

The 15-year, $600 million plan to address toxins dumped in the river by General Electric in the 20th Century from a Pittsfield plant controversially includes the creation of a new landfill in Lee.

“People are exposed to those sediments and floodplain soils, people are walking on this floodplain soil," EPA New England Superfund Program Director Bryan Olson said. "They're potentially wading into the river, they're eating the fish in the river. We need to take those sediments and put them in a safe place. And to be clear, the highest level sediments will be sent off site outside of Massachusetts to landfill outside of Massachusetts, the lower level sediments, which there are a lot of, will be placed in the Lee consolidation area.”

Despite that, efforts from local environmental groups to stymie the plan in court continue.

“There's a body of science, and actually from some EPA employees, that say that eventually all dumps will leak- Not to mention that the geology report on this dump is damning," said Executive Director of the Housatonic River Initiative Tim Gray. "You know, the geologists basically wrote that it's the textbook example of where you would never build a dump. But EPA and General Electric decide to go ahead with this anyway, and try to build it in our town down here in Lee. We have an action in federal court in Boston trying to solve the problem, because in the actual plan, they're taking out maybe a third of the PCB, and leaving the rest.”

For Pittsfield – the county seat and largest community in the region – the March killing of 22-year-old Miguel Estrella in the midst of a mental health crisis by Police Officer Nicholas Sondrini loomed over 2022. Estrella was a fixture of Pittsfield’s West Side neighborhood, remembered for his dedication to community. His loss left many devastated, including Estrella’s best friend Jawuan St. John.

“I had got a call that night from his girlfriend that he was dealing with some stuff, and he wanted to come over [to] my house because we would confide in each other," he told WAMC. "I knew he dealt with depression, even though he was the funniest guy I knew. And he just never showed up. I've only had two best friends in my entire life. And I consider them like brothers. And both of them are dead now. But those two people were the only people who can make me sincerely laugh. I'm not the person who's always smiling. If I'm smiling, it’s just to be polite. But he was a funny guy. He was always smiling, always making other people happy. Always just cheerful. And I don't know a lot of people like that.”

At a rally in April, Estrella’s mother Marisol – with interpretation by Anaelisa Jacobsen – spoke out about the incident.

“He asked for help and he didn't get help," she said. "I want an answer. He was a youth like, so many of our youth, who just asked for help. He was in crisis. And instead he was met with violence. I'm one of so many mothers who's been through this, and we're not going to do this again. Justice for Miguel! Because beyond being a mother, I've worked for this community. We're just one family, and together we will make the strength! Justice for Miguel! No more injustice. No more deaths for youths who are in crisis. No more tolerance for this injustice.”

By August, Sondrini was exonerated after investigations by both the Pittsfield Police Department and Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington.

Harrington’s loss in September’s Democratic primary was also one of the year’s most significant moments. In 2018, the progressive became the first woman to win the seat after running on a reform platform. Four years later, her bid for a second term fell short after a challenge from Pittsfield defense attorney Timothy Shugrue. Campaigning on anecdotal claims of rising crime unsupported by data from local police departments – the Pittsfield PD’s numbers showed an over 40% reduction in crime over five years at the height of the race in Augustthe DA-elect said he will return to the practice of prosecuting low-level crimes in his victory speech.

“In my opinion, it's irresponsible to refuse to charge individuals who commit relatively minor crimes such as shoplifting and allow them to repeat this anti-social conduct time and time again with no consequences," said Shugrue. "I've heard about our local merchants’ stories and their outrage because they're losing thousands of dollars of merchandise to shoplifters who are then emboldened to victimize the same merchants over and over again, sometimes several times a day without the fear of any penalty. People have accountability, we're going to hold people accountable. Some argue that prosecuting shoplifters criminalizes property and contributes to systematic racism. I disagree. I think the fairer and more compassionate approach is to charge shoplifters in court and then to offer them statutory diversion programs with pretrial probation, address the reason why they're shoplifting in the first place. If it was because of a drug problem, I say that we should offer them the treatment to address that addiction. Let me be clear, I don't want to send shoplifters and other low-level offenders to jail. But I do want them to learn that criminal behavior has consequences.”

With no challengers in the November general, Shugrue’s primary win was decisive.

In September, the months-long search for a woman from Albany County ended in tragedy when the Berkshire DA’s office confirmed remains discovered in a heavily wooded area in Lee were that of 42-year-old Megan Marohn of Bethlehem. The teacher at Shaker High School in Colonie had been last seen in Lee, where police found her car at Longcope Park on March 29th. It remains undetermined how she died.

In November, over 100 workers at sprawling art museum MASS MoCA in North Adams agreed to their first contract with management after unionizing in 2021.

“After many, many months of organizing and bargaining with the museum to try to reach an agreement on a first contract that would cover both full and part time staff of MASS MoCA – everybody from the front-facing visitors services and box office staff to facility staff to curatorial and professional workers – you know, many months, we were able to reach an agreement with the museum, and it was a long road to get there," said UAW Local 2110 President Maida Rosenstein. "And last summer, we had a one-day strike, and leafleted many events, etc. But we're finally able to get to an agreement with the museum that we think is a very strong first contract that will make a real difference to the lives of workers at MASS MoCA.”

At a special town meeting in December, Lenox voters approved a major new infrastructure investment: a new, $20 million public safety building to rehouse the police and fire department expected to be completed in two years.

“The plan is to construct a new 19,000 square foot facility at the corner of Route 7 and 20 and Housatonic Street, across from Caligari’s hardware store," select board member Ed Lane said. "It's also known as Sawmill Brook, currently owned by [Community Preservation Committee] and affordable housing. The facility will be large enough to house everything needed for the current services plus have enough area for future expansion if needed.”

For many more news highlights from Berkshire County in 2022 – including the election of a North Adams school committee member to the Governor’s Council, the local NAACP Chapter’s report on redlining in Pittsfield, and the city’s historic investment in housing using federal COVID-19 relief funding – click the links above.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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