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Lee voters approve nonbinding question to rescind agreement allowing PCB dump in town

A stretch of the Housatonic River.
Nancy Eve Cohen
A stretch of the Housatonic River.

About 60% of voters in Lee, Massachusetts, have approved a nonbinding ballot question to rescind an agreement to build a PCB disposal site in town. They also voted to return to a one person - one vote town meeting government — a shift away from representational government.

Residents also chose a new selectman, Gordon Bailey. He takes Pat Carlino's seat, who stepped down after serving on the board for 24 years.

Bailey was a selectman a decade ago, from 2000 until 2012. He said he wants the board and residents to meet with attorneys to discuss the option of walking away from the agreement.

“Let the entire town know what the potential is for good or bad, should we rescind. And are there other paths we could take legally that would get us where we want to be — which is no dump in Lee," he said.

Bailey's election means there is no one on the select board now who has voted for the toxic waste disposal site.

A previous select board approved the agreement two years ago to build it in. The agreement was reached in a closed door mediation with the Environmental Protection Agency and General Electric to clean up the Housatonic River. GE's electrical transformer factory in Pittsfield contaminated the river with PCBs from the 1930s until the 1970s.

Selectman Bob Jones said he wants to find out if the agreement is "even legal."

"Basically what you had in Lee were three select board members making a decision for over 5,000 people to put  a toxic waste dump in an ecologically sensitive site," Jones said.

On the select board's agenda this week is whether Carlino, who represented the town of Lee during the negotiations which led to the agreement, should continue to serve on the Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee. The committee, which represents Pittsfield and five towns along the river, is focused on the cleanup of the river from Pittsfield downstream to Great Barrington.

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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