There’s something profoundly positive about getting things out in the open, about the light of day. Like talking about GE’s $300,000 gift to 1Berkshire, and 1Berkshire’s quirky decision to create the Smart Clean-Up Coalition. To spend time, energy and money arguing for a limited clean-up of the Housatonic River.

I’m no expert when it comes to Economic Development. But isn’t that why the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation, the Berkshire Creative Economy Council, and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau all came together?

As the Berkshire Eagle put it: “to provide a single point of entry for those interested in doing business in the county and … promote the Berkshires as the place to live, work and play.”

Aren’t there issues more important to economic development than trying to keep the EPA from cleaning the Housatonic River? Like creating well-paying jobs? Like making Pittsfield a safer place to live, work, and play?

When the state and city of Pittsfield made its deal with General Electric, GE agreed to give the city 52 acres of its former factories and 10 million dollars over 10 years. The perfect place to incubate new jobs. So why isn’t 1Berkshire talking about creating jobs making components for high-speed transit or small-scale solar panels. Bringing together talented people in the plastics industry, former GE engineers and some of those Berkshire Creative folks to come up with some truly creative ideas for future work.

Michael Daly of Berkshire Bank, and the President of 1Berkshire, told the Eagle on February 19, 2011, that 1Berkshire took money from a lot of other folks beside GE. He wasn’t ready to tell us who. But isn’t 1Berkshire a non-profit corporation and shouldn’t their donor list be public information?

Michael Daly said 1Berkshire didn’t take the GE money specifically for the Smart Clean-up campaign. But he couldn’t be sure where the Smart Clean-up money comes from because all the money they solicited went into one big pot.

For the record, I agree with him that we should all weigh in on how best to clean the River.
I only wish the 1Berkshire folks would get the facts right. Michael Daly told the Eagle: “I think that people will find out that if there is a dredging of this river from end-to-end that it is logistically impossible to do, and that it will have decades of devastation that would be hard for the Berkshire community to overcome.”

Haven’t we already lived with “decades of devastation” that’s been “hard for the Berkshire community to overcome.” Wasn’t this devastation was caused by 1Berkshire’s benefactor, the General Electric Company?

Thankfully some of this devastation has been reversed. Contaminated homes have been cleaned. Two miles of the Housatonic have been successfully dredged. Yes, I used the “d” word. And the Berkshire community survived.

If you don’t believe me, grab a pizza at the East Side Cafe then stroll a few feet to the Newell Street Bridge and look down at the Housatonic. It’s still there. If you think maybe your eyes are deceiving you, drive down to the Lyman Street Bridge to check it from another angle. You may have to rub your eyes if you’ve seen GE’s slick and deceptive “Fate of the Housatonic River” video. Because the river still flows. (Check out for Bruce Winn’s point-by-point critique of GE’s video nonsense.)

Yes, the river was dredged. And you know what: cleaning the river created jobs. Ask Maxymillian Technologies. And the more river we cleaned, the more jobs we created. Shouldn’t 1Berkshire consider that a win-win for economic development?

Another stubborn fact. Who else predicted “decades of devastation” for the river? Well that would be GE, said benefactor of 1Berkshire. The sentiment seems vaguely familiar. “There is no question that the more aggressive remediation alternatives under consideration will permanently damage the ecosystem. Riverbanks will be permanently deforested and reshaped, the riverbed will be altered, forests in the floodplain will be removed and will take generations to return to their current state (if they ever do.)” From GE’s Revised Corrective Measures Study.

Many people, the EPA included, are working to find the best possible way to ensure not only public safety, but the health of all living things that make the Housatonic their home.

River advocates have been fighting for the most comprehensive, least traumatic clean-up from day one. We continue to press the EPA for a pilot project to test innovative ways to dredge and destroy contaminated river sediments with minimal destruction.

I invite 1Berkshire to invest some of GE’s money in pilot studies to find the best and least invasive way to get all the PCBs out of the river. A completely clean and safe river will only help us promote the Berkshires as a place to live, work, and play.

The Berkshire Record, February 24, 2011. © Mickey Friedman