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Lee, Mass. residents take legal action over town's approval of a PCB dump

Mar 26, 2021 5:45 am

Larry Parnass is reporting for The Berkshire Eagle four residents of Lee, Mass., want a court to decide if town officials exceeded their authority when they agreed to allow an old quarry to house toxic chemicals without bringing the issue to residents. Officials are on record saying they believe they acted in the town’s interests. In a lawsuit filed this week in Berkshire Superior Court, the residents say the town's Select Board breached its duty and abused its discretion when it entered into a settlement that allows the General Electric Co. to bury 1 million cubic yards of sediments containing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in an engineered landfill. The town will receive $25 million from GE as part of the deal. On February 5, 2020, Lee Select Board Chair Thomas Wickham signed on to the secret deal during an executive session — which the lawsuit claims was improperly called. Plaintiffs' attorney Judith C. Knight said, “The Select Board acted independently without the authority of town meeting, which is a violation of their duty to the town. For them to do this in secret and not put it before town [residents] is shocking.” Officials have said they had the authority to back the settlement. In late January, the Lee Select Board rejected a call by residents to rescind the approval that made local PCB disposal a part of the 10-year long cleanup of the Housatonic River. The lawsuit asks the court to find that officials were not authorized to sign the agreement that put PCB-tainted river sediments into the former Lane Construction quarry. The question of whether Lee officials violated the rules of executive session is key to the residents’ lawsuit. They assert that deliberations about the settlement should have taken place in public. “They badly botched this process by not bringing it to town members,” she said. “How in the world would the residents of Lee know that this was a possibility? Their first duty is to their own town.” Read more in The Berkshire Eagle.