Pittsfield City Councilors Sign On To Surprise EPA Letter

Jul 16, 2018

In a move that surprised Pittsfield, Massachusetts Mayor Linda Tyer, three city councilors have signed on to a letter from a disgruntled resident addressed to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Craig Gaetani — who has run for both city council and mayor — is a fixture at Pittsfield’s bimonthly council meetings, generally appearing to excoriate leaders.

“Eight members of the council are in Tyer’s back pocket, and you have to be very desperate, very desperate, to hook your chain to her belt, because she also is as clueless as you,” said Gaetani at last week's meeting.

The regularity of his criticism month after month has resulted in a familiar patter between the agitator and the city’s representatives.

“You eight nincompoops-" said Gaetani.

“Mr. Gaetani, I need you to wrap it up,” interjected City Council President Peter Marchetti.

“Mr. Marchetti. One additional thing, because you said that number 13 might go to a — I don’t want the police committee to be anybody put on by Tyer or otherwise we’re going to have the same thing we’ve had with the other two that failed. Thank you very much,” finished Gaetani.

At the July 10th meeting, Gaetani brought up one of his major complaints — the city’s much debated $74 million dollar plan to upgrade its wastewater plant to meet EPA standards. And this time, he dropped a surprising claim.

“Mrs. Mazzeo, Mr. Connell, and Mr. Morandi and I have drafted a letter asking Region 1 EPA director Alexandra Dunn to appear at the city council meeting soon so that the entire council and the public can ask questions, especially me,” he told the council.

After an unsuccessful bid to pass the spending bill in late February, Mayor Tyer said she met with Dunn on April 3rd to address the concerns of dissenting councilors — including Melissa Mazzeo, Chris Connell, and Kevin Morandi — that it was possible to renegotiate the EPA’s terms for the city’s mandated upgrades. The meeting resulted in a letter from the EPA making it clear that it intended to hold the city responsible to the existing terms; specifically, the city must break ground on the new plant by August 1st. The spending plan passed April 23rd when Councilor Donna Todd Rivers of Ward 5 changed her vote to a yes.

But Gaetani pointed to a recent move by the Trump Administration as groups to reach out to the EPA again.

“One thing that everyone in front of me must understand is that the clean water rule has been suspended for two years by the EPA, what that means is today we do not know what the standards will be that we will have to meet,” he said.

Gaetani is referring to the suspension of the Obama-era Waters Of The United States rule, which was suspended in late January. The move was made by former EPA head Scott Pruitt, who resigned earlier this month under a deluge of ethics controversies.

“Given this fact, the only prudent thing this council can do would be to suspend the sewer project updates and not spend a penny more of taxpayers’ dollars to the city’s three consulting engineering firms, which I call leeches,” said Gaetani to the council.

Mazzeo confirmed that she and her colleagues on the council had attached their names to Gaetani’s letter.

“Yeah, he had asked me if I was willing to entertain having her come back here because he’s a private citizen and they said they wanted to hear from public officials, so I think Chris and I — and I don’t know even if Kevin, had said yeah, go ahead and put our name on it, send the letter," said Mazzeo to WAMC. "I’d love to have her come to have another conversation. He is bringing up a lot about the clean water act being suspended. I’m not sure that they’re completely similar, but they have a lot of similarities, so I’d like to have a conversation with somebody of her caliber around it, so I’m all for her coming.”

“This is brand new information to me," Mayor Linda Tyer told WAMC after the meeting. “I would certainly never attempt anyone — a city councilor or a citizen — from accessing the state or federal agencies that are charged with serving us. I do think though that this matter has been settled, that we’re moving forward with an upgrade to our wastewater treatment plant, and if Alexandra Dunn comes back to Pittsfield, I hope to have an opportunity to have a second conversation with her.”

However, that doesn’t seem likely. An EPA spokesperson tells WAMC that while it had received Gaetani’s letter, it had told him on May 22nd: “As you are aware, the Regional Administrator was recently hosted by the Mayor and several City representatives to discuss this matter, and we do not anticipate another visit by her in the near future.”