Our Opinion: Housatonic is more than clean-up debate

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When conversation turns to the Housatonic River it is probably most often about the endless saga of the PCB cleanup, currently in limbo as General Electric and the Environmental Protection Agency quarrel over the latest EPA plan. Yet the river keeps flowing, making its way south unburdened by appeals and counter-appeals.

The Housatonic Valley Association is dedicated to drawing attention to the river and its undeniable beauty, making a distinction between the river and the corporate-government battles that drag on about the river's future. The Housatonic flows from Berkshire County through Connecticut to Long Island Sound, and the nonprofit HVA is dedicated to not only the river's restoration but creating more canoe access, providing education about the river and protecting a watershed area that comprises 83 communities in two states.

A bend near the Sheffield Covered Bridge is a particularly picturesque section of the river, and a new bench was installed there Wednesday to symbolize the effort to bring people closer to the Berkshires' distinctive waterway (Eagle, November 9). The bench was donated by the Salisbury Bank & Trust, which has a branch in Sheffield, in cooperation with the HVA.

The bank is one of HVA's RiverSmart Business Partners, a group formed to promote the HVA's goal, in the words of the group's Berkshire director, Dennis Regan, "to get people more involved with the Housatonic River." The business partners were recruited to educate customers and the community about the river and act as stewards in attempts to reduce stormwater runoff pollution and address other issues that threaten the health of the river and the watershed area.

The HVA's efforts have been joined over the years by other groups in Berkshire County, and the Housatonic River Walk in Great Barrington has over the past two decades opened up a section of the river to residents and visitors. Volunteers participating in an annual cleanup have removed hundreds of tons of trash and debris from the river over the years. The bend in the river near the Sheffield Covered Bridge is a popular spot for walking and launching canoes, and the new bench, besides providing a place for people to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet, draws attention to the goal of promoting the strengths of a river that is usually in the public eye only for controversial reasons.

Mr. Regan is correct that most people "only hear the negatives about PCBs" when it comes to the Housatonic. It's unfortunate that the cleanup process is stalled as the EPA has put forward a reasonable plan that takes into consideration GE's concerns about its obligations regarding the river. Still, the river can be enjoyed and appreciated regardless of what happens or doesn't happen in the years ahead. The river has played a major role in the Berkshires over many decades and it has earned our continued attention and appreciation.


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