LOCATION OF INJURY
Pittsfield, MA and Housatonic River
DATE OF INJURY
1932 and ongoing
DATE AND AMOUNT OF SETTLEMENT
2000 at $15,000,000
NRD SETTLEMENT FUNDS AVAILABLE
As of August 2008: $4,000,000 uncommitted for MA Restoration
General Electric (GE)
NATURAL RESOURCE TRUSTEES
MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),
RELEASE OF HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other hazardous substances (dioxins, furans, volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, and inorganic constituents (e.g., metals))
Surface water, riverbank and floodplains, fisheries, wildlife, aquatic life, vegetation, recreational fishing and boating
Restoration planning is ongoing
FINAL ROUND 1 RESTORATION PLAN AND SUPPLEMENTAL ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT file size 1MB (Oct. 2007)
GE / Housatonic River RCRA NRD Case Settlement
In an October 2000 Consent Decree, General Electric agreed to clean up and/or pay for the remediation of PCB releases from the General Electric facility to the Housatonic River. As part of this Consent Decree, General Electric paid over $15 million in natural resource damages (NRD). This sum has been divided between the geographic regions of Massachusetts and Connecticut so that roughly half of the $15 million will be available for restoration projects in each state.
Natural Resource Trustees
The GE/Housatonic River Natural Resources Trustees include the Massachusetts EEA, the State of Connecticut, the Department of the Interior's USFWS, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On January 30, 2002, the Natural Resource Trustees executed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) setting forth how they would manage the recoveries obtained under the Consent Decree. Pursuant to the provisions of the MOA, Natural Resource Trustee SubCouncils for the geographic regions of Massachusetts and Connecticut were formed. Each SubCouncil has the authority, pursuant to the MOA, to authorize the expenditure of NRD funds allocated solely to the geographic region of the respective SubCouncil.
The MA SubCouncil currently consists of one Federal Trustee (USFWS) and one State Trustee (EEA). The MA SubCouncil also includes ex-officio delegates and a non-voting representative from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). The ex-officio delegates and non-voting USEPA advisor were incorporated into the MA SubCouncil to share their relevant expertise in the restoration planning activities of the SubCouncil. In addition, the ex-officio delegates provide initial insight from the perspective of local stakeholders, while the non-voting USEPA advisor facilitates coordination with remedial activities.
The General Electric Company owned and operated a 254-acre facility in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where the construction and repair of electrical transformers using dielectric fluids from the late 1930s to the late 1970s resulted in the release of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). According to GE's reports, from 1932 through 1977, releases of PCBs reached the waste and storm water systems associated with the facility and were subsequently conveyed to the East Branch of the Housatonic River and to Silver Lake. Additional hazardous substances include dioxins, furans, volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, and inorganic constituents (e.g., metals). During the 1940s, efforts to straighten the Pittsfield reach of the Housatonic River by the City of Pittsfield and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers resulted in 11 former oxbows being isolated from the river channel. The oxbows were filled with material that was later discovered to contain PCBs and other hazardous substances.
The comprehensive remediation and restoration of the GE-Pittsfield/Housatonic River Site, including the Housatonic River, the former General Electric facility, several former oxbows of the river, contaminated floodplain properties along the river, contaminated groundwater, Allendale School, Silver Lake and Unkamet Brook, is being performed pursuant to a court-ordered Consent Decree that was approved by the U.S. District Court on October 27, 2000. The Housatonic River cleanup is divided into three segments, the first ½ mile adjacent to the facility, the next 1 ½ miles downstream to the confluence of the East and West Branches, and the Rest of River downstream of the Confluence.
Injured Natural Resources
The presence of PCB contamination in river sediments, soils, and groundwater has been documented through a series of investigations conducted by GE, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and the USEPA spanning two decades.
Natural resources of the Housatonic River Basin have been injured by the release of chemical wastes, primarily PCBs. The contamination has affected aquatic organisms and their habitats, as well as water-related natural resources such as waterfowl and predators that consume contaminated aquatic organisms. In addition to the harm done to natural resources, natural resource services have been impaired. Natural resource services are functions provided by natural resources for the benefit of humans or other natural resources, such as recreational fishing for humans or nesting habitats for birds.
A fish consumption advisory for the Housatonic River was issued by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 1982 from Dalton, MA, to the Connecticut border as a result of the PCB contamination in the river sediments and fish tissue. It was later amended to include frogs and turtles. In addition, in 1999, MADPH issued a waterfowl consumption advisory from Pittsfield to Great Barrington due to PCB concentrations in wood ducks and mallards collected by the USEPA from the river. There have also been losses of other recreational opportunities (e.g., boating and swimming) due to the actual or perceived risk associated with physical contact with the river.
Restoration planning is ongoing.
Round 1 Restoration
In October of 2007, the Massachusetts Trustee Sub-Council released a Final Restoration Plan and Supplemental Environmental Assessment for the first round of restoration funding.
Totaling $4 million, the Round 1 restoration projects range from controlling invasive species and surveying rare species along the river to acquiring conservation land, restoring river flows, and implementing a river-focused environmental literacy program as follows:
- Clapp Park to Wild Acres Greenway Project - $250,000 (City of Pittsfield).
This project will acquire two land parcels, totaling 31 acres along the river's Southwest Branch to protect wildlife habitat and provide recreational opportunities.
- Housatonic River Floodplain Forest Restoration Project - $522,456 (Project Native).
This project will restore and enhance floodplain forests along the Housatonic through native plantings and invasive species control, as well as land acquisitions and easements totaling approximately 130 acres.
- Great Barrington Housatonic River Walk - $133,308 (Great Barrington Land Conservancy).
This project will reclaim an eroded section of riverbank in Great Barrington.
- Enhanced Public Access to the Housatonic River - $415,000 (ESS Group, Inc. and Housatonic Valley Association).
This project will screen potential access sites and select five places as new access locations, followed by development of conceptual designs, permitting, and construction.
- Housatonic Environmental Literacy Program (HELP) for the River - $631,410 (Mass Audubon and the Housatonic Valley Association).
This project aims to restore the relationship of the public to the Housatonic River and its watershed through education, active involvement, and river education experiences for students.
- Berkshire Conservation Agent Program - $235,079 (Berkshire Regional Planning Commission).
This will provide municipal conservation commissions with technical assistance, including field work, application review, permit preparation, and monitoring and administration of projects according to Wetlands Protection Act permits.
- Old Mill Trail - $244,047 (Housatonic Valley Association).
This project will provide river access through a passive recreational trail.
- Rare Species Recovery on the Housatonic River - $556,950 (Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program).
This two-year survey will expand protection for rare species by identifying previously unknown species locations, generating conservation maps, and identifying sites for land acquisition and rare species restoration.
- West Branch of the Housatonic Revitalization Project - $750,000 (City of Pittsfield in partnership with the Massachusetts Riverways Program and Berkshire Regional Planning).
This project involves removal of the Mill Street Dam to restore natural river flows.
- Rising Pond Land Acquisition - $261,750 (Berkshire Natural Resources Council).
This project proposes to acquire and protect three parcels of land (161 acres) abutting the Housatonic River in Great Barrington, pending resolution of environmental issues.
The Public's Role
Round 1 Restoration
Round 2 Restoration
The Trustee Sub-Council expects to solicit Round 2 Restoration proposals in 2008-2009 and will place a notice of the availability of the Request for Response/Request for Ideas on the Housatonic River Natural Resource Restoration website prior to its issuance.
GE / Housatonic NRD Trustee Contacts
MA Department of Environmental Protection
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
This information is provided by the Massachusetts Natural Damages Assessment and Restoration.