|Rest of the River Cleanup Expected to Take 15 Years|
|12:03PM / Thursday, December 17, 2020|
BOSTON — After years of studies and negotiations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to oversee a $576 million cleanup of the Housatonic River over the next 15 years.
A "Revised Final Permit" for the Rest of River cleanup plan has been issued under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act spells out the required cleanup measures to be followed by General Electric Co. to remove contamination caused by polychlorinated biphenyls used in the manufacture of transformers at its former Pittsfield plant.
The final permit updates EPA's 2016 cleanup plan for the river, its floodplains and other surrounding areas.
The permit requires GE to clean up contamination in river sediment, banks, and floodplain soil that pose unacceptable risks to human health and to the environment.
The excavated material will be disposed of in two ways: materials with the highest concentrations of PCBs will be transported off-site for disposal at existing licensed disposal facilities, and the remaining lower-level PCB materials will be consolidated on-site at a location in Lee.
"EPA is very proud of the hard work and commitment of all stakeholders to achieve a cleaned up Housatonic River that will remain a scenic and recreational foundation in Berkshire County and Connecticut for generations to come. This cleanup plan will protect public health and restore a cleaner, healthier and more robust ecological community in and near the river," said EPA New England Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel in a statement. "This month as EPA celebrates its 50th Anniversary, we reflect on other major EPA efforts including Boston Harbor and the Charles River, which have proved to be economic and recreational catalysts for revitalized communities. EPA believes that the Housatonic River cleanup work can have similar positive results for communities along the river's watershed."
The final permit is similar to the Draft Revised 2020 Permit issued for public review and comment on July 9. Many of the comments submitted during the public comment opportunity highlighted issues already addressed in the draft permit, and which remain in the Revised Final Permit. These include the need for air sampling, the desire to identify or develop effective PCB remediation alternatives, and the need for extensive coordination between EPA and the communities.
EPA's 2016 cleanup plan was challenged by multiple parties before the EPA Environmental Appeals Board. In a 2018 decision, the board endorsed EPA's decisions on the PCB cleanup but raised questions about the decision to dispose of all excavated material at off-site facilities. In response to the board's decision, EPA initiated mediated negotiations with eight parties to the appeal to see if there was one solution that provided a more effective cleanup that parties could agree to.
Those discussions led to the February 2020 Settlement Agreement entered into by EPA, the State of Connecticut, the Rest of River Municipal Committee (comprised of the Towns of Lee, Lenox, Great Barrington, Stockbridge and Sheffield), the City of Pittsfield, Massachusetts Audubon Society, Berkshire Environmental Action Team, C. Jeffrey Cook and GE.
EPA recognizes that many of those who commented during the public hearing process were opposed to the construction of the Upland Disposal Facility (UDF) in Lee. Upon evaluation of the comments, EPA confirms its conclusion that the selected plan outlined in the Revised Final Permit represents the best approach to the cleanup, can and will be done safely and effectively, and addresses the primary risks at the site – PCB contamination in the River and floodplain.
The cleanup plan in the Revised Final Permit is consistent with the 2020 Settlement Agreement.
The work will require approximately two to three years for initial design activities, and 13 years for implementation. As part of the agreement, GE will initiate sampling and design activities during any appeals, allowing for remediation to begin two to three years earlier than if these design activities were suspended during appeals.
The majority of the sediment and floodplain cleanup is targeted within the first 11 miles in the city of Pittsfield and the towns of Lee and Lenox. Phasing the work will disperse the effects of the construction activities over time and locations.
In conjunction with the Revised Final Permit, EPA continues to strongly support the investigation and development of alternative techniques to address PCB contamination. To that end, the agency committed in the February 2020 Settlement Agreement to facilitate opportunities for research and testing of innovative treatment and other technologies and approaches for reducing PCB toxicity and/or concentrations in excavated soil.
To follow up on its commitment, EPA will begin discussions with stakeholders to design and issue a "Challenge" competition, (such as those found at www.challenge.gov
), to identify innovative technology strategies and solutions that may have applicability to this site. This will likely be conducted in stages, with the first being a competition to identify potential technologies.
EPA signed the Revised Final Permit on Dec. 16 and has elected to make the "notification date" of the permit on Jan. 4, 2021, meaning the Revised Final Permit becomes effective on Feb. 3, 2021.