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GE makes PCB cleanup payments totaling more than $55M to towns along Housatonic River

 A sign in Lee, Massachusetts, warns people not to eat fish, turtles, ducks and frogs from the Housatonic River because they are contaminated with PCBs.
Nancy Eve Cohen
A sign in Lee, Massachusetts, warns people not to eat fish, turtles, ducks and frogs from the Housatonic River because they are contaminated with PCBs.

Five towns along the Housatonic River — Lee, Lenox, Great Barrington, Sheffield and Stockbridge have received a total of $55 million from General Electric. GE says it will pay Pittsfield $8 million next month. The company also paid interest.

The payments are part of a plan to clean up PCBs from the river — which includes a toxic waste dump in Lee, near the Lenox line.

Lee and Lenox each received $25 million from GE last week, plus interest. They also were reimbursed for expenses from the Rest of River Municipal Committee.

The Lee Select Board is recommending that $20 million be put into a high-interest bearing account to offset costs for new public safety and public works facilities.

Select Board Chair Bob Jones said that could reduce tax increases for those projects.

He said the board is recommending that a committee decide whether some of the rest of GE's payment might be spent to help people who live near the proposed dump.

”We want to see how we can help those property owners that are most impacted by this rather awful development,” Jones said.

In addition, the Lee Select Board is also recommending some of the funds be spent on a consultant who has expertise in PCBs and in the proposed disposal site.

A special town meeting in Lee in early December will vote on it.

Other towns, including Lenox are expected to decide via regular Town Meetings in the future.

Christopher Ketchen, town manager for Lenox, said the town has not made any plans yet for how it will spend the funds.

"It will be the subject of a deliberate and thoughtful process that the select board will undertake at some future date that will ultimately result in recommendations to the Town Meeting," he said.

Besides making payments to the municipalities, GE will pay Mass Audubon $500,000. The cleanup is expected to use up to three acres of Audubon property as a staging area during the cleanup.

In a statement a General Electric spokesperson said, the company "... will continue to move forward to achieve the cleanup goals EPA has set to protect local communities and the environment.’’

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.

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