Pittsfield's Silver Lake Open For Recreation

May 28, 2014

Pittsfield's Silver Lake is open to the public for recreation.
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

The city of Pittsfield recently recognized the revitalization of Silver Lake.

The remediation of Silver Lake began in July 2012 with the removal of contaminated sediments from the banks of the 26-acre body of water. A sand cap was placed along the lake bottom to contain cancer-causing PCBs that seeped into the lake from the neighboring General Electric site before the substance was banned in the 1970s. The lakefront now boasts growing vegetation and a blacktop walkway with benches. Jim McGrath is Pittsfield’s Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager.

“Silver Lake is open now for recreational activities,” McGrath said. “I think what we’ll see most are folks walking along the new walkway and enjoying the new plantings, but the lake is available for fishing, boating and kayaking so we hope the community takes advantage of that.”

The work was completed via a consent decree with GE under the supervision of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Jim Owens is the EPA’s regional director of remedial projects.

A walkway stretches around the lake.
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

“This represents the 18th of the 20 non-river projects that need to be accomplished under the consent decree,” Owens said. “So that is indeed an accomplishment. It’s a big step forward in completing all of the required cleanup at the GE facility. I was up here about a year ago and it’s unbelievable the progress that was made.”

The lake is adjacent to the 52-acre William Stanley Business Park, the former GE site. North Adams-based MountainOne Financial opened a branch right next to Silver Lake in May 2012. CEO Tom Leavitt joined MountainOne that July. He says the decision to move from Burlington, Vermont came from a realization that Pittsfield’s glass was half full and filling up.

“We felt that Pittsfield was definitely on the rise,” Leavitt said. “It had weathered it’s more difficult challenges, still more to weather, but that those challenges are overcome able. This is the best evidence of that that we could possibly have.”

The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, or PEDA, is a quasi-public agency that oversees the park. PEDA has acquired the land surrounding the lake and the city has approved a permanent easement to maintain the shoreline. Executive Director Cory Thurston says remediating Silver Lake was a promise PEDA made to MountainOne when it opened in Pittsfield. Now, Thurston says a $9.7 million state grant for an innovation center will help fulfill another guarantee.

“The other promise of having neighbors in the William Stanley Business Park is soon to be a reality as well,” said Thurston.

Jane Winn of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team says animals, boat anchors or water springs could disrupt the sand cap. Winn expressed concern PCBs could leak into the Housatonic River, which is also being remediated.

“Get out the contamination,” Winn said. “It’s down in the water table. It seems likely that any contamination, even if capped, can move possible into the river. It just would have made sense to make GE actually clean up their mess."

The consent decree with GE requires corrective action if problems are found while the cap is monitored. Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi says the revitalization of the often joked about lake, which has actually caught fire throughout its history, is a sign of good things to come.

“Especially for folks who grew up here in the city of Pittsfield it is tremendous to see,” Bianchi said. “It is a symbol of what I think is going to be the next chapter in the city of Pittsfield and a bright future for generations to come.”