A Note from Patrick White/November 11, 2023
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Today would have been my mom’s 86th birthday and is also Veteran’s Day. I had some time for reflection on both, and the nature of loss in general, as I was walking the beautiful Bullard Woods and Gould Meadows trails this morning. I'd like to share some of them.

Patrick White

Hawthorne Cottage this morning.

General Electric...

You may have read in The Eagle about the settlement funds arriving at each of the five towns. The article focused on the plans that Lee and Lenox have for the use of proceeds, each $25 million. Stockbridge received $1.6 million, with accrued interest.

Let’s remember what this is: compensation for the impacts from General Electric’s poisoning of our river and the floodplains adjacent to it.

If you think that these actions were all in the past, think again. Just this past week, GE opposed improvements to the Pittsfield facility that collects PCB runoff before it is dumped in the river. Why? Well, money of course.

This is the same General Electric that opposed the 2016 settlement that would have incinerated or otherwise safely disposed of dredged PCBs out of state, resulting in the 2019 agreement that will leave these PCBs atop of liners at the Lee PCB dump, a dump with the sciency-sounding name of “Upland Disposal Facility.” Why? Well, money of course.

This is the same General Electric that will likely oppose efforts to use trains to keep tens of thousands of truckloads of PCBs off our streets as they remove them from the river for transport to Lee. Why? Well, money of course.

This is a company run by a man named H Lawrence “Larry” Culp. Larry got paid $22 million the year after he tanked the better clean-up option, saving GE $200 million. This is a company that enjoyed profits of $9 billion last year alone on revenue of $80 billion. This is a company with a market capitalization of $121 billion. The additional cost of the preferred clean-up would have represented just 1/10% of 1% of its net worth, and just 2% of the profits from last year alone. You sure are earning that big giant salary, Larry. And the GE Board is certainly doing its job of getting Larry to focus on squeezing every penny he can out of those quarterly earnings reports.

You know, my best friend growing up lived on Cherry St. about 100 feet from the river. Steve Rose was his name. He never smoked, yet he died of a rare throat cancer earlier this year. My friend D., who is still with us so I won’t use her name, lived across the street, about 25 feet from this river. She got a similar throat cancer, though they lived their adult lives 3,000 miles away from each other. Now I know better than to link these specific experiences with General Electric, but there is no doubt we have cancer clusters all along that river starting in Pittsfield and heading south. And there is no doubt that polychlorinated biphenyls are one of the most carcinogenic substances known to man.

Thankfully, Stockbridge parents are more aware of PCBs than ours were in the 1960s and 1970s. Thankfully, the parents in town I know don’t let their entrepreneurial children enter the river to retrieve golf balls and sell them back to golfers for $.25 each, after hand-cleaning the silt off them. Thankfully, our modern farmers no longer locate their farms on the riverbanks as an easy source of irrigation and drinking water, as farmers did for hundreds of years up until the scope of General Electric’s malfeasance was widely known. Thankfully today’s parents and farmers know better than to play or grow in our forever-tainted floodplain that is known as the Housatonic and its shores. Small thanks indeed.

At least we humans can avoid the river, unlike the beavers and otters and turtles and trout forever forced to live in this beautiful yet despoiled habitat.

Which brings me back to the $1.6 million. This tiny payment, when you think of the scope and scale and duration of the impacts of this crime, when you think about the permanent human and environmental toll of GE’s actions, when you shudder reflecting on the still-hidden 55-gallon drums of buried PCBs, hidden without record throughout the county, this tiny payment could not possibly represent more than 1/100th of a penny on every dollar of actual impact.

For one year only, we could just lower your taxes by about 15%. I live a modest life and work three jobs, but I for one don’t want to save a few hundred dollars with this tainted money.

I’ve been quietly asking around for suggestions on alternate ways to use these proceeds. There have been a number of good ones so far, including investing it in our parks and recreational facilities to offset the impact of GE’s actions on current and future generations’ ability to recreate, especially the children. Another wonderful suggestion is to use some of it to remediate invasives along the river, removing them and planting the native trees that would deter their return.

I am open to suggestions. Best ideas win.

Superior Plus Energy Services...

Last Thursday, the Select Board voted unanimously to deny the expansion via new licensing of the propane facility at 9 Lee Road. Superior is the third company to operate this business over the past 50 years. In my opinion, all three companies did a poor job of following the law during the entirety of the facility’s existence.

A license or special permit is permission to operate in our town. Companies, and individuals for that matter, should know that egregious violations of the terms of special permits, or of local, state, or federal land use/operating use laws, will have consequences. One of them should be that the company or individual must bring the property or operation in question into full compliance with our laws before they are rewarded with a new license or new permit.

This is, after all, the duty of our boards: to evenly apply and enforce our laws, and to encourage community standards of conduct.

Housatonic Water Works...

The Town will be filing its written testimony on Wednesday. I will post the testimony once it is reviewed by Chair of Water & Sewer Don Schneyer and Water Superintendent Mike Buffoni, and translated into legalese by Town Counsel.

Speaking of Water & Sewer...

Speaking of Mike Buffoni and Water & Sewer: I had a chance to have two long conversations with Jeff Jourdain, a local forester who has been overseeing the management of our lands in the watershed for over 25 years.

You know, when I started this job I had no idea all the work that goes into managing the Town, and all of the great folks who contribute to that work, mostly without thanks or celebration for their efforts.

I’d just like to say for the record, thank you to our volunteer board members and to Mike and Jeff for their thoughtful stewardship of our lands. Keeping our water supply healthy does not happen by accident, and with the mass die-off of ash tree stands and other species this is no trivial challenge. I express these thanks for your thoughtful management, for educating our Town boards including A & F and the Select Board, and for having the flexibility to manage Town forests in an era of climate impacts.

The end of the cove.

Speaking of Climate...

We have a lot of great Town boards that, in one way or another, are addressing the actual and potential impacts of climate change and coming up with sustainable mitigation strategies to manage them.

It's a topic that touches:

  • The Planning Board, and issues surrounding land use in general and the Lake and Pond Overlay District in particular. Kudos to Chair Kate Fletcher for raising these issues;
  • Agriculture & Forestry and Water & Sewer for discussing the rate of plantings to replace dying species, logging practices, managing forests for carbon sequestration vs. old growth vs. bird habitat etc.);
  • The Conservation Commission and the challenges related to both enforcing current Town and Commonwealth wetlands laws and for its consideration of whether we need to tighten these performance standards around wetlands;
  • The Kampoosa Bog Stewardship Commission (Kampoosa and Agawam Lake, both in Stockbridge, are the only graminoid calcareous basin fens in Massachusetts. These are incredibly important to protect as they host globally-rare native species);
  • The Stockbridge Green Communities Committee for looking at ways to conserve energy and reduce waste at the Transfer Station;
  • The Community Preservation Committee, which, in conjunction with the Stockbridge Land Trust and Laurel Hill Association, have been leading efforts to conserve land in Stockbridge together for over half a century;
  • Parks and Recreation, and our need to create an Open Space and Recreation plan to qualify for state funding;
  • Stockbridge Bowl Stewardship Commission, who in conjunction with the Stockbridge Bowl Association, is working together better than ever to steward our largest lake.

While all of these groups are working on a piece of the puzzle, my question is, how do we manage it? How do we encourage the various silos to work together? If you have thoughts on this, please let’s discuss.

EV Rates

On October 26, the Select Board unanimously approved a two-tier rate, which rewards Town employees and board/committee volunteers with the ability to charge at cost their electric vehicles at the charging stations at town offices. If you have a plug-in electric or hybrid, this is one of the best deals around!

Congratulations to the Berkshire Waldorf High School and the Congregational Church for signing the purchase and sale of Old Town Hall.

Every stone in the cemetery tells a story. This is the stone of little Arthur Field, who died at just four years old. "How many hopes be buried here." Let's reflect for a moment on little Arthur and his parents' hopes, so for at least a moment, he is not forgotten.

Last thoughts: Volunteers

In the past few weeks, two different folks have reached out to discuss their plans to change their status from part-time to primary residents, and wanted to discuss the opportunities in Town government to volunteer.

First, welcome! Like so many before, you’ve chosen a strong community with a wonderful mix of folks who live here. I told them, and I will tell anyone else considering this decision, however I can help I will.

I would like to point out that all of our meetings are on Zoom, and I regularly see volunteer board members attend from a remote location. While state law requires you to be a full-timer to run for elected office, anyone can throw their name into the hat for appointed positions.

Unlike the vast majority of other towns in the Berkshires and beyond, Stockbridge has had no problem recruiting and retaining great members for both our appointed and elected boards. In fact, the Town doesn’t have a single vacancy on any of its boards at the moment.

That said, positions open all the time: after all, we have nearly 125 appointed board members and well over a dozen elected ones. So, feel free to call me anytime if you want more information on volunteering, and I’d be happy to give you an overview or a deep dive into the workings of the town.

Patrick White

Sadie at the Cove recently.
"Want to go swimming?"

Just so it's said...

This email represents my personal thoughts. It's not from the Town of Stockbridge, it's from Patrick White. It isn't an "official" communication! You can read all issues of this newsletter at www.patrickwhitestockbridge.com

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Patrick White
81 Hawthorne Street
Stockbridge, MA

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