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Heather Bellow
Reed Anderson and his wife, Gretchen, and children Horace and Holiday. Anderson bought his home (in the background, right) earlier this year. He says his real estate agent never told him of the possibility that a PCB dump might be situated just across the pond at Rising Paper dam, where he will be able to see it from his home.

PCB dump in Housatonic depressing real estate sales, brokers say

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By Wednesday, Sep 7, 2016 News 8

Housatonic — The General Electric Company’s (GE) toxic waste dump hasn’t even come to Housatonic yet, but real estate brokers and agents say the mere prospect is already affecting the town’s real estate market.

This village within the town of Great Barrington is the location for one of three of GE’s proposed Berkshire County dumpsites to contain toxic PCB (polychlorinated biphynals) waste after it is dredged from Housatonic River sediment. The company’s Pittsfield plant for years polluted the river and the

Housatoxic: The town is already feeling the effects of GE’s proposed dumpsite here. Photo: Heather Bellow.

Housatoxic: The town is already feeling the effects of GE’s proposed dumpsite here. Photo: Heather Bellow.

neighborhoods around it, sending the industrial organic compounds known to harm human and animal health down the river as far as Connecticut. GE was forced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up PCB contamination around its transformer manufacturing complex in Pittsfield but  now the agency is ordering the company to clean the “Rest of River” — from Garner Park in Pittsfield to the Connecticut border and ship the waste out of state to an authorized PCB remediation facility.

But GE, which owns property along the river that is earmarked for the waste — in Lenoxdale, Lee and on the banks of Rising Pond in Housatonic — is fighting the EPA over it, saying it will cost $200 million more to ship the pollution out. And it is unclear whether the EPA will win this legal battle against GE.

Meanwhile, in Housatonic, homeowners are now worried about their property values — not to mention potential health risks from a nearby dump — and prospective homebuyers are now saying they won’t buy in Housatonic.

“You can’t show any property in Housatonic without mentioning [the dump],” said Barnbrook Realty’s Claudia Laslie. “As a conscientious person looking out for your buyer, we have to disclose that there might be a dump located there —you can see right there what problems that creates.”

“We would always make sure that people understand that there is this possibility,” said Stonehouse Properties co-owner Randy Thunfors. He said he has discussed it with clients when the matter has come up, though Stonehouse has not been involved in any sales that were close enough to the site to be an issue.

In the nearby woods, the underground group River Ghost has posted signs to draw attention to GE’s plans. Photo: Heather Bellow.

In the nearby woods, the underground group River Ghost has posted signs to draw attention to GE’s plans. Photo: Heather Bellow.

Barnbook owner Maureen White-Kirby says she’s seeing a “real and tangible” effect on the market as her clients won’t even consider Housatonic. “There’s a buzz about it,” she said, “though the consequences may take a little while.”

Artist and life coach Reed Anderson did buy in Housatonic earlier this year after moving with his family from New York. He did so only because he didn’t know about the dumpsite and, even worse, that it would be within eyeshot of his home.

“I was told nothing about [the dump],” he said. “I would not have bought there.”

He added that he feels “slighted” by the agent who sold him the house, and that it “saddened” him “about the state of human relationships.” When he later confronted his agent about this, Anderson said he told him the dump “was never going to happen.”

“There’s a good chance it will happen,” Anderson said. He said disclosure was a “moral” obligation, and should be the law. “I was paying a commission; I’m paying them to protect me. They are schooled in this.”

Anderson consulted an attorney who said he had received other similar calls from Housatonic homeowners. Anderson said the attorney told him that, if the dump is realized, Anderson would have to prove his home value was affected. “This could be a mess for Great Barrington. I don’t want to see that; I love this town.”

Local attorney Richard Dohoney — and former member of the Great Barrington Planning Boad — says Massachusetts is a “buyer-beware state.” There’s no duty to disclose “any facts that may affect the future value of the real estate, including the potential for a future PCB dump in the area.”

Dohoney said that sellers and brokers, however, can’t misrepresent properties. “If they made a statement of fact that was false about the dump, then there might be a claim.”

Dohoney said that, generally, there is “very little relief available to buyers in those situations.”

On Railroad Street in Great Barrington: The work of River Ghost. Photo: Heather Bellow.

On Railroad Street in Great Barrington: The work of River Ghost. Photo: Heather Bellow.

As a result, Housatonic is off the table for many because of GE’s plans. One local real estate investor, who did not want to be identified, told the Edge he would not consider purchasing in Housatonic.

But if GE thought it could quietly buy properties along the river for future dumps and not have a public relations nightmare on its hands, it may have messed with the wrong town. Take a step into the woods, or onto sidewalks here or in downtown Great Barrington, and one will see signs that remind residents and tourists what’s coming nearby.

Anderson, who is not alone in his activism since a 2015 EPA Housatonic River Citizens’ Coordinating Council meeting set off the alarm bells about the dumps, is making more anti-dump art using GE logos. And the signs nailed to trees and utility poles — that’s the work of River Ghost, an underground movement to spread information.

There have been two marches, and activist group Housatonic River Initiative is continuing its long-term work of keeping a fire lit under GE and the EPA.

Anderson says he worries that saying the dumps won’t happen might lead to a complacency that could give GE its way. “To fight effectively we must believe that it is entirely possibly that GE can move ahead with its plans to build the PCB dumps it plans to build. To think otherwise is to believe that GE would put our personal good before their corporate greed.”

“After everything,” said Barnbrook’s Laslie, “you’d think [GE] wouldn’t want to further sully the Berkshires and create more bad will.”

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8 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Jon Piasecki says:

    I agree with the EPA that the toxic waste from the river should be dredged and hauled to the approved treatment facility in Texas, but the sad truth is that even the G.E. proposed dumps would be an improvement over our current situation. Right now all of us are exposed to an open toxic waste site along Rising Pond. Each breath we take near there, contaminates us. Milk, eggs and meat raised withing 3km of Rising Pond are contaminated with volatile airborne PCB congeners. Any dust lifted off the river bed in dry times like now contaminates anything it touches with heavier PCB congeners. Dust falls on the grass. It is eaten by a chicken or a cow. It binds to their fat. Then we eat it and it contaminates us. We can complain about the dumps all we want but it is an intentional distraction from the fact that G.E. has poisoned the river and all of us. The dumps are their proposed remedy to improve the terrible toxic exposure we must all suffer every day.

    1. peter greer says:

      time for a class action – big time- against this polluting entity. Its about health and safety ; RE values are a small derivative of that more critical fact.

  2. Gwen says:

    In addition to anecdotal evidence, it would be great to see facts to support this statement about real estate values and home sales in Housatonic. I.E. a list of home sales and assessed values over time in the village, compared to similar neighborhoods with or without potential waste sites. Housatonic isn’t the only neighborhood in the Berkshires with a site owned by G.E. or the river running through it, nor are the Berkshires the only region to be faced with the clean-up and remediation challenges presented by PCB contamination. It would be interesting and perhaps lend objective and factual evidence to a real problem or demonstrate the issue is not as dire as the article leads one to think.

  3. NICK STANTON says:

    Let’s get a little perspective here: In 2016 GE returned $33B to their investors, $8B in dividends, $18B in buybacks and $7B in an exchange involving an entity called Synchrony. See page 5 of the Annual Report at https://www.ge.com/ar2015/assets/pdf/GE_AR15.pdf, the CEO’s letter in the Annual Report (https://www.ge.com/ar2015/letter/) and the Form 8937 reported to the IRS (https://www.ge.com/sites/default/files/IRS%20Form%208937.pdf).
    The $200M they are claiming the removal of the PCBs to a licensed facility would cost is 0.61% of what they returned to investors. I considered the case of a hypothetical investor who has $50,000 worth of stock. Enough investment that they might wonder what it could cost them if the EPA were to insist on the licensed dump option. Our hypothetical investor would get $11 less in dividends at the end of the year, $1,872, instead of $1,883.
    On another page, https://www.gesustainability.com/how-ge-works/integrity-compliance/#letter, I found 2 documents containing:
    1 Be honest, fair and trustworthy in all of your GE activities and relationships.
    2 Obey applicable laws and regulations governing our business worldwide.
    3 Fulfill your obligation to be the Voice of Integrity and promptly report any concerns you have about compliance with law, GE policy or this Code.
    4 Simple compliance is more effective compliance. Effective compliance is a competitive advantage. Work to run the company in as competitive a way as possible — with speed, accountability and compliance.

    How can we hold them accountable to their own standards?

  4. Michelle Loubert says:

    This isn’t just a Housatonic issue. Remember — the Housatonic River flows into Great Barrington. Great Barrington is not immune from these PCBs, any toxic dump, or the economic fallout. We have several businesses in Housatonic: Berkshire Mountain Bakery, Taft Farms, Project Native, restaurants, etc. They will be impacted. Who will want to eat meat from a cow that grazes in a field a short distance from a PCB dump? Who will want to eat an apple grown on a tree a stone’s throw from a PCB dump? Who will want to eat in a restaurant (remember the Farm to Table philosophy) where food is obtained from the fields surrounding the PCB dump? The Housatonic River flows right by the luxury hotel proposed on Bridge Street and 100 Bridge Street. Who will want to stay/live there? It’s the domino effect. If Housatonic goes down, so will Great Barrington. And so will surrounding towns. It’s Economics 101. And the last time I checked, Housatonic’s tax dollars are not a different color than Great Barrington’s. So Great Barrington, this isn’t just about Housatonic.

  5. Michelle Loubert says:

    I also think it interesting that Lee and Lenox, homes of the other 2 proposed sites, seem rather quiet. I recall sitting in a meeting in Lenox regarding PCBs and after the meeting an attendee commented to another attendee that Lenox had nothing to worry about; there was no way a PCB dump would go into that town. Obviously, these Lenox citizens have faith in their town leaders. I’m not sure the same can be said in Housatonic (and Great Barrington).

    1. Max says:

      Michelle: do you know where the proposed dump site would be situated in Lee? We are considering moving to Lee or Lenox and have been following properties for sale. There is a very lovely house on nearly an acre that seems fairly close to the Housatonic RIver in Lee that has been on the market for over 2 years with major price reductions down to about 210K. We just started reading about the GE PCB contamination and the proposed idea to build 3 dumpsites. A Realtor I asked why a nice house was selling at a very good price after being on the market for 2 years. The reply was its a nice house that was probably priced too high. I know that MA is a buyer-beware state but I woud think this situation would be openly disclosed by Realtors selling houses in the area. Perhaps not.

      1. Beth Carlson says:

        This article has maps of the proposed dumps. Land already purchased by GE:


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