Vol. I No. 03 9/1/2020
What Is Happening Next Door in Lee?
by Bob Jones
I've been thinking about neighbors lately, given the strife and turmoil we've been facing as a nation and even on a local level. Merrimack-Webster defines a neighbor as one located near or living near another. The second describes a neighbor as "Fellow Man". Neighbors in South and Central Berkshire County are facing a problem that many don't know we have.
This year, the Towns of Sheffield, Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lenox, Lee and Pittsfield came to an agreement regarding the removal of toxic chemicals from the Housatonic River. The representatives of these towns met secretly with representatives of the General Electric Corporation and representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and crafted an agreement for the remediation of PCBs in the Housatonic. It was not generally known that these meetings were taking place.
The agreement reached was hailed by many as a victory for all, a victory for the river and a great conservation measure. One does not have to dig deep to see that this is not the case.
Selectmen of the Town of Lee voted to allow the chemical dump, and in exchange, be paid $25,000,000. Select Boards are usually lay people and it is not unusual that none of the three sitting members had a background in a scientific field required to make the decision.
The residents of Lee are furious, terrified by creation of a wasteland in their midst. There are concerted efforts to reverse the decision, legal remedies sought.
But getting back to neighbors. The representatives of all the aforementioned towns started out with another agreement amongst themselves. If one town balked at participating in the GE-EPA plan, all would back out. Against the wishes of the townspeople, the chemical dump is planned for Lee/Lenoxdale. Did the other towns back out in support of their neighbors? No. They presumed it would not affect the health of their towns. In fact, it probably will. In fact it is our collective problem
We are all in the Housatonic River Valley corridor. GE and EPA assured us the chemical dump won't leak, but they cannot guarantee this. The company that manufactures the liner that will be used for the dump will not guarantee it when used to contain chemicals.
The natural soil and geological makeup of the Berkshires connect all of us as does the river. Underground limestone channels are our source of clean water. We are neighbors not only in proximity, but in a shared ecology. If the dump leaks what happens in Lee will also happen downstream. In addition, the waste is going to be trucked from your town, through your streets to the dump site.
Good neighbors would be just as angry if representatives of a neighboring town disregarded the voters and agreed to a chemical dump. Moreover, as neighbors, we are all complicit and it will affect us all.
Editor's note: Jones was a Stockbridge resident for 15 years serving on the Fountain Committee, the ZBA, and the Stockbridge Zoning Review Committee. He now lives in Lee.