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Residents vent frustrations with Housatonic River cleanup deal

Great Barrington Selectboard members, Chairperson Stephen Bannon, left, and Bill Cooke during the EPA event on Feb. 20 at Monument Mountain Regional High School.  Photo by Ted Remsnyder

GREAT BARRINGTON — Residents continued to express their anguish about the deal five south county towns have struck with the Environmental Protection Agency and General Electric Co. to clean up the Housatonic River at a public information session last week, while local officials insisted that the agreement is in the interest of the public.

More than 100 residents attended the meeting, but the crowd slowly trickled out as the public forum wore on, eventually lasting over five hours.

The agreement calls for an Upland Disposal Facility to be established on a Lee/Lenox section of the Lane Gravel Pit property to store lower level materials contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

In an impassioned speech that drew the biggest cheers of the night from the crowd, 17-year-old Lenox resident Fiora Caligiuri-Randall called for independent testing of the toxic disposal site.

Under the deal, General Electric (GE) will be required with monitoring the site.

“I don’t hate you like several people do,” she said. “I understand your job is very hard and you’ve been put under a tremendous amount of pressure and it’s very scary for you. However, it is your job that you signed up for when you ran for office to protect us from consequences of any decisions that you make.”

The home-schooled high school junior also contended that the money that towns receive from GE as part of the settlement be put into a trust as a relief fund for any potential victims harmed by the toxic landfill in the future.

As part of the agreement, which still must go through a permitting process before being finalized, Lee and Lenox will each receive $25 million from GE, while Great Barrington, Sheffield and Stockbridge will each receive $1.5 million apiece after the electric giant admitted its role in polluting the river.

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