The Housatonic River flows through western Massachusetts and Connecticut and empties into Long Island Sound. From 1932 through 1977, the General Electric Company (GE) facility in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, released polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Housatonic River environment. The PCBs contaminated the river’s water, sediment, riverbanks, and floodplain, as well as various species of fish and wildlife.
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. This clean up is independent of the natural resources restoration effort and is directed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).
As part of the October 2000 Consent Decree, General Electric also paid over $15 million in natural resource damages, which is managed by the Natural Resources Trustees (the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the State of Connecticut, the Department of Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). This sum was divided between Massachusetts and Connecticut so that roughly half of the $15 million is available for restoration projects in each state. According to state and federal regulations, natural resource damages must be used to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent of natural resources and services that were injured.
Natural Resource Trustees
The Housatonic River Natural Resource Trustees include:
- Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (Mass EEA)
- Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (CTDEP)
- United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
An in-depth description of the Trustees’ and the Connecticut and Massachusetts SubCouncils’ roles is provided in the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) among State and Federal agencies in the Housatonic watershed. These Natural Resource Trustees obtain the authority for collecting natural resource damages from parties responsible for environmental harm caused by hazardous substances from the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the federal Clean Water Act, Executive Order 12580, the National Contingency Plan, and/or the Massachusetts Contingency Plan. These also provide the authority for using the funds collected as damages for the restoration of the natural resources that were harmed.
The MA SubCouncil was formed by the Natural Resource Trustees in accordance with the provisions of the Consent Decree and the Trustee MOA to guide the process of the natural resources restoration of the Housatonic River in Massachusetts. The MA SubCouncil currently consists of one Federal Trustee and one State Trustee. NOAA chose to withdraw from its decision-making role on the MA SubCouncil pursuant to an October 2004 resolution to the MOA. The MA SubCouncil currently consists of the following:
- Michelle Craddock, MassDEP (voting member, State Trustee representative)
- Molly Sperduto, USFWS (voting member, Federal Trustee representative)
Dean Tagliaferro, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), is a non-voting Federal Advisor to the MA SubCouncil.
Upon reaching unanimous agreement of its voting members, the MA SubCouncil is responsible for authorizing the expenditure of Natural Resource Damage settlement funds allocated to Massachusetts.
The Restoration Planning process includes the following components:
- Development and Finalization of the Restoration Planning Strategy;
- Development and Finalization of the Restoration Project Selection Procedure;
- Identification and Evaluation of Proposed Restoration Projects;
- Development and Finalization of the Programmatic Environmental Assessment;
- Development and Finalization of the Restoration Plan;
- Implementation of Restoration Projects; and,
- Monitoring of Restoration Actions.
Before the funds allocated to Massachusetts can be used to implement natural resource restoration projects, the MA Subcouncil must develop a Natural Resources Restoration Plan (Restoration Plan). The Restoration Plan evaluates a number of restoration alternatives and explains the rationale behind the choices made regarding the restoration projects that will be implemented. The MA Subcouncil worked with the public and stakeholders for a number of years to develop several Restoration Plans.
The Trustees have collaborated with numerous partners to implement more than 50 restoration projects in Massachusetts and Connecticut using settlement funds.