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A Conflict of Interest Over Housatonic's Clean Up

By Charlie Deitz


Berkshire County – Environmentalists in Berkshire County have grown suspicious of a new coalition's efforts to promote a non-invasive clean up of the Housatonic River. WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz reports the issue began with a post on Facebook...

Less than a year ago, the members of the Berkshire Economic development corporation, Berkshire Creative, the chamber of Commerce and the visitor's bureau banded together to form 1Berkshire, a group whose mission was to bring in more business and residents to the county. Since that time the new coalition has only made a public appearance with a Facebook fan page called the smart clean up coalition, essentially promoting a low impact solution to removing tons of PCB's from the Housatonic Riverbed, Mike Daly is the President and CEO of Berkshire Bank, and chair of 1Berkshire, he notes the area's progress in job creation and tourism, and that a full on dredging of the river would only hamper progress.

The PCBs in the Housatonic River were left there by General Electric who operated a plant at the river's headwaters for generations. The group used the Facebook site to encourage fans to write to the EPA expressing their position. But Tim Gray who founded the Housatonic River Initiative asked the site host if they were receiving money from GE because their position seemed to mirror GE's, a less invasive and less costly natural recovery method, the site host responded that they didn't receive anything from GE, but it turns out they did receive money. $300,000.

Gary Sheffer is a spokesperson for GE, he clarifies that the money they sent to 1Berkshire was not intended to control their efforts to effect river clean up.

GE is pushing for what's called monitored natural recovery, basically letting the river heal itself, while 1Berkshire takes a more aggressive position, calling for removal but not gutting the riverbanks to do it. Mike Daly explains that the money they got from GE was part of a series of investments from interested parties.

Nancy Fitzpatrick is co-chair of Berkshire Creative and board member for 1Berkshire, she says 1Berkshire is a young organization with many things left to hammer out, so this oversight shouldn't seal their fate.

The EPA is still reviewing GE's proposal and comments from the public, the public comment period ended at the beginning of this month. Environmentalists fear that 1Berkshire, which represents some of the most powerful forces in Berkshire County, has been co-opted by GE's interest in a low cost river clean up. The issue caused one member of Berkshire Creative to resign from her position.