There’s a curious letter in today’s Register-Star from Pierre Gontier, the former chair of the Columbia County Environmental Management Council (EMC). The letter praises Hilary Hawke for her reporting on the Harvard study of mercury levels among residents downwind of Lafarge.
Gontier coyly avoids saying what exactly he likes about the substance of the article, except that he found it more balanced, somehow, than other reports. But it’s not hard to guess what he’s driving at... Unlike most other articles on the topic, Hawke’s report for the Register repeatedly focuses on the notion that the Harvard report was “inconclusive.”
Other papers, such as the The Albany Times-Union, came away from the Harvard presentation with a very different impression: that the report had indeed found elevated mercury levels among residents of Ravena, which plays host to the Lafarge plant. By contrast with the Register’s insistent focus on doubts (which so delighted Gontier), the T-U’s headline and subhead read:
Town sees mercury spike
Blood, hair samples of people who live near the Lafarge plant raise health, safety concerns
Gontier got himself in a bit of a tangle during the SLC review, when he sent a letter on Management Council stationery to Administrative Law Judge Helene Goldberger, endorsing the Greenport project in terms lifted pretty much verbatim from the company's own literature. Among his more absurd reasons for supporting the project? Because he was glad that the location would not result in a loss of "greenspace," even though the mining plan would result in turning hundreds of forested acres into vast, open pits.
But more than the absurdity of Gontier's arguments or the lack of originality in his wording, the main problem was that he'd never actually had the EMC research or vote upon taking a position on the project prior to sending his endorsement to the Judge. Indeed, during the course of the nearly seven-year controversy, the three dozen groups challenging the project were never invited by Gontier to present their research (which ultimately was ratified by State officials) to him or the EMC as a group.
When the provenance of this letter was then challenged in 2001, SLC’s attorney's hurriedly relayed a statement from Gontier to the Judge, saying that this endorsement was his own opinion, not that of the EMC—though without ever acknowledging the sleight-of-hand of submitting such puffery on official letterhead. (He was not heard from again in the remainder of the process, which lasted into 2005.)
On a slightly happier note, the EMC has become relatively more active and balanced since Gontier’s departure, for example issuing a 2009 report expressing concern about the increased use of outdoor wood boilers for heating.