Residents of the Berkshires will learn about their opportunity to speak out on the next cleanup of the Housatonic River, which will allow public participation at the same time officials are signing agreements not to share too many details of the mediation efforts. Mediation is often a confidential process, but can be shared when an issue affects members of the public.
The effort to allow the public to comment came after two years of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlining steps for the General Electric Co. to follow that would remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the river.
PCBs are believed to be carcinogenic and were banned in 1979, but prior to that the company had been releasing the contaminant into the river. A cleanup plan was created by the EPA, but GE challenged the cleanup plan, which followed previous efforts to remove PCBs from properties in Pittsfield.
According to Timothy Conway, an EPA attorney based in Boston, that a date for a public gathering would be scheduled by next week. The promise came after sharp comments from several members of the council questioning the purpose of the mediation and its confidentiality.
After hearing Conway’s promise, Benno Friedman, a resident of Sheffield who is a member of the council said, "It sounds pretty nebulous and mysterious to me. I cannot imagine what was missing and what more can be done to delineate the steps to be taken now."
The mediation process began after several months of creating a non-disclosure agreement everyone could agree on. The EPA agreed to mediation efforts, despite the majority of its cleanup plan being upheld after a court review.