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EPA, GE and Other Parties Finalize Consent Decree for PCB Cleanup in Pittsfield

Release Date: 10/07/1999
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice today announced that they have finalized a Consent Decree that requires General Electric to undertake the cleanup of PCB contamination in the Housatonic River and Berkshire County. Parties to the agreement, which will be lodged in U.S. District Court in Springfield, include General Electric, the City of Pittsfield, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the State of Connecticut, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Consent Decree, including related technical documents, specifies how the many aspects of the massive cleanup will be carried out, including cleanup of the Housatonic River, GE's 250-acre property in Pittsfield, filled oxbow properties, Silver Lake, Unkamet Brook, Allendale School and floodplain properties along the Housatonic. (Related information including Consent Decree and summary of cleanup agreements.) The document, which also outlines the natural resource damage package that GE will fund, is subject to a 60-day public comment period. The court must approve the document before it becomes final.

"This settlement ensures that the environment and public health of the residents in the Pittsfield area will be protected," said Carol M. Browner, EPA Administrator. "The restoration of the Housatonic River will lead to the economic and environmental revitalization of Pittsfield and Berkshire County."

"This agreement is the most significant step yet for our common goal of the environmental and economic restoration of Pittsfield and southern Berkshire County," said John P. DeVillars, administrator of EPA's New England Office. "The document lays out in great detail how and when the Housatonic River, Pittsfield and the rest of Berkshire County will be restored in the coming years. It reflects enormous effort and the shared commitment of EPA, GE and many public agencies to the future of Berkshire County. All of the dozens of public and private officials who have worked on this should be justifiably proud."

EPA will be holding numerous informational meetings in the next several weeks to discuss the document and solicit public input. "We will continue to collaborate closely with the community every step of the way as this project moves forward," DeVillars said.

"This consent decree means GE will clean up the Housatonic River," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources at the U.S. Department of Justice. "Today's settlement is a major step by GE toward ending the legacy of pollution in the river."

"On behalf of the citizens of Pittsfield, I want to thank the people at EPA and other organizations who worked so hard to get closure on this complex issue," said Pittsfield Mayor Gerald S. Doyle Jr. "I believe that we will move into the next century with a much safer environment and stronger economy because of this effort. I look forward to the remediation, restoration and redevelopment work progressing forward as soon as possible."

"The people of Pittsfield and Berkshire County deserve to have an iron-clad plan in place that will specify how and when their neighborhoods and waterways will be cleaned and restored," said Bob Durand, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. "This consent decree will ensure that the work already underway will continue on schedule so that we can plan for the environmental and economic revitalization of this area. That plan includes funding for the acquisition of open space and the restoration or replacement of damaged natural resources along the Housatonic River."

"The scope and complexity of these negotiations have been truly intensive," said Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly. "Through the focused and prolonged efforts of all parties, however, we were able to bring this historic settlement to fruition. With this settlement, we can avoid years of litigation and can get GE to begin now a full-scale cleanup, restoration of damaged natural resources and the economic rebirth of the GE plant site. The people of Pittsfield and Berkshire County can now look to their future, instead of their past." "This consent decree recognizes the damage to Connecticut's natural resources caused by GE's environmental shortcomings and we can now begin the process of moving forward restoration projects to address those damages," said Arthur J. Rocque Jr., commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. "Our federal and state partners that made this agreement possible should be commended, especially Connecticut's team - DEP staff and the Attorney General's office - who an excellent job representing Connecticut's downstream interests."

"This agreement should signal a new era of environmental cooperation instead of confrontation, as we pursue the common goal of enhancing the environment," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. "We will pursue any industrial polluter - no matter how large - as vigorously as we did in this case."

The Consent Decree - which will be legally binding once it is approved and entered in federal court - ensures that the work on the cleanup of the river, the GE plant site, and numerous other properties will proceed on the expedited schedule outlined by EPA more than a year ago. Many of the projects already are underway, including the recently-completed cleanup at the Allendale School and source control measures at the GE property to prevent continuing PCB discharges into the river.

Source control work in the upstream portion of the GE property was recently completed, allowing cleanup work in the first half-mile of the river to begin immediately. Work plans for removing the contaminated river sediments and bank soils received final approval last week from EPA. The Consent Decree requires that the upper-2 mile cleanup be done by May 2001, followed by restoration activities.

The Consent Decree includes the following cleanup projects as well:

    • GE Plant Site: GE will continue to move forward with work to eliminate all potential sources of contamination to the river. Contaminated soils will be cleaned up to allow for commercial/industrial use of the property and contaminated groundwater will be addressed through the installation of groundwater detection systems, oil recovery and, if necessary, groundwater treatment. The cleanup, which will be done in coordination with the city's Brownfields redevelopment efforts, will be done over the next five years.
    • Oxbow Properties: GE will clean up contaminated soils in the former River oxbows to allow for commercial/industrial use or recreational use of the properties, as appropriate.
    • Upper 12 Miles of River: The 1.5 miles of the Housatonic below the GE plant site will be cleaned up, starting in the summer of 2001, immediately after the cleanup of the first half mile. The process to determine how best to clean up the 1.5 miles began last summer with extensive sampling of stream sediments, banks and adjacent floodplain properties. Following the analysis of that data, EPA has begun to analyze the various cleanup options and will submit a draft proposal to the community for review later this fall. The 1.5-mile river cleanup - which will be performed by EPA and paid for primarily by GE - is expected to be completed in three to four years from the date cleanup begins.
    • Rest of the River: An extensive investigation by EPA is underway to supplement the previous work done by GE to define the extent of contamination in the lower river, below the confluence of the river's East and West Branches. EPA is also performing human health and ecological risk assessments and modeling of the river system, after which GE will perform an engineering analysis of the options for cleanup. A cleanup decision for the rest of the river is expected to be made by EPA in 2002, after an extensive public comment process. GE has the legal right to challenge EPA's cleanup selection, but GE is required under the decree to perform the cleanup that results from EPA's decision and any GE appeals. All of this work, and any GE legal appeals, are likely to take place while the cleanup of the upper two-mile reach is underway.
    • Floodplain Properties: As cleanup work is done in the river, remediation work will be undertaken at residential, commercial and recreational properties in the floodplain next to the river. That work will be coordinated as much as possible with river cleanup efforts.
The Consent Decree also requires GE to fund a natural resource damage package that will include $15 million in cash to be invested in natural resource projects to restore, replace or acquire the equivalent of the damaged resources within both Massachusetts and Connecticut. The package will also include enhancements to the cleanup projects in the Housatonic River, Silver Lake, Unkamet Brook and associated wetlands and floodplains within the City of Pittsfield to enhance or create habitat. In addition, the settlement includes a unique provision whereby $4 million in future revenues that flow from the economic redevelopment of the GE plant site will be made available for additional natural resource projects.

The signing of the consent decree also brings closer to reality a separate "Brownfields" agreement between the City of Pittsfield and GE aimed at helping the city to redevelop a 250- acre parcel in downtown Pittsfield.

"Our agreement with GE provides long-term value and utility to the city as we develop one of the largest 'center-city' business complexes in the Commonwealth," said Thomas E. Hickey Jr., president of Pittsfield's City Council and interim director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. "GE will demolish antiquated, vacant buildings that can translate into 700,000 to one million square feet of building space for employers who want to bring jobs into new, efficient buildings designed for their specific needs."

Hickey pointed out that the city's package also includes 100,000 square feet of temporary office space, rent free, for up to six years. "We will be able to accomodate prospective tenants as the demolition and cleanup work finishes and new construction begins," Hickey said.