Pittsfield, MA.- A national environmental group has launched an investigation into wetland violations and a subsequent cover-up at Berkshire Community College. According to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), college officials intentionally "misled permitting agencies" when they constructed soccer fields on top of sensitive wetlands and endangered species habitat.
A letter to outgoing BCC President Barbara Viniar, the group charges that:
Elevation maps were deliberately changed to cover up the filling of wetlands susceptible to flooding,
Sensitive vernal, or seasonal, pools were illegally altered, and
Habitat for two state-listed rare species was destroyed.
The violations may have been ordered directly by President Viniar."We have received a number of reports that President Viniar has ordered her staff to alter maps and deceive state officials," stated PEER's New England Director Kyla Bennett, a biologist formerly with EPA.
Viniar, who resigned her post earlier this week, is no stranger to controversy. Last February, Viniar created a stir by firing 11 faculty members hours after the college union took a vote of no confidence in her leadership. Most of this faculty was later rehired, but the move was widely perceived to be an act of retribution against her critics.
In a statement released Tuesday, the school's board of trustees attributed her resignation, in part, to "the dissension on the campus these past few months with respect to President Viniar's leadership."
PEER will work with the commonwealth's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection throughout the investigation.