HOWARD WEISS-TISMAN

Brattleboro Reformer

BRATTLEBORO -- Entergy Communications Manager Jim Sinclair knew there would be questions to answer following the company’s announcement Tuesday that it would be closing the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon in 2014.

And many of the questions concerning decommissioning, ongoing litigation and the time line moving forward are hard to answer at this point, Sinclair says.

But when a representative from a local non-profit organization that has received support from Entergy in the past called Sinclair Wednesday about this year’s donation Sinclair told her not to worry.

"I told her we were here and would continue to be here for her," Sinclair said. "It’s not like the company is closing its doors tomorrow."

$500,000 per year

Every year Entergy Vermont Yankee donates about $500,000 to non-profit organizations in the area. Most of the money goes to groups in the Brattleboro area, but donations and grants also go to other parts of Windham County like Wilmington and Bellows Falls, as well as to neighboring towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The company will be producing energy through 2014 and Sinclair said he expects to maintain the same level of support through next year, though he admits that as the number of employees drops in the coming years there likely will be a change in local charitable giving.

"This decision came upon us very suddenly and we are going to have discussions with those who have been dependent on us for financial support," Sinclair said. "I’m sure the organizations are going to want to understand what impact this will have but it’s too early to say exactly what level our donation budget will look like over the next few years."

Sinclair said the money is distributed in the form of grants, which organizations can apply for, as well as through sponsorships, which Entergy Vermont Yankee provides to events.

Last year the company provided funding for some of Windham County’s most important and high profile events such as Strolling of the Heifers, Harris Hill Ski Jump and Brattleboro Winter Carnival.

The group also sponsored events for schools in Brattleboro, Putney, Guilford, and Keene, N.H., as well as for Brattleboro Figure Skating Club, Grace Cottage Hospital, Brattleboro Walk In Clinic and Morningside Shelter.

Sinclair said an employee committee looks at every application for funding, and while occasionally they have to say no, he said whenever food or heat are involved the company is usually able to offer some level of assistance.

"We look at the need and at the impact the money will have on the community," said Sinclair. "When it is human services we take it very seriously and we always find a way to support that."

The United Way of Windham County is the largest recipient of Entergy Vermont Yankee’s annual charitable gifts.

The group gets about $120,000 every year through VY employee donations which are matched by the company.

"Entergy Vermont Yankee has been a huge supporter and we are going to have to find a lot of donors to make up that money," said United Way of Windham County Executive Director Carmen Derby. "This is going to be a huge hit to this community."

Every year Derby plans out her budget and fundraising goals and she was as surprised as everyone when Entergy announced Tuesday that it would be closing the Vernon plant next year. Her first thoughts, she said, were for the employees and their families, and to the people of Vernon who will be facing a whole host of questions as the company reduces the work force.

"Their support has made a big difference and we will need to have a discussion to figure out what our revenue will look like the following year," said Derby.

Entergy Vermont Yankee employees also get out when there are projects to complete and over the last few years employees have helped out at the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center, the Vermont Foodbank and the Boys and Girls Club of Brattleboro.

Every year Vermont Yankee employees donate their own money to the Reformer Christmas Stocking, and also donate time to unpack clothing.

"Vermont Yankee employees have been steadfast in their support of the Christmas Stocking over the years," said Christmas Stocking Chairwoman Betty Elwell. "We have always been very thankful for the help they give."

"They have been a great partner," said Vermont Food Bank Executive Director John Sayles. "They have always been supportive of our mission."

Sayles said he expects the company to continue to work with the Foodbank for as long as there are any employees in Vernon.

Beth Baldwin, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro, said losing a company like Entergy Vermont Yankee is going to have ripples that reverberate throughout the community.

Non-profit organizations in the area already compete for hard-to-come-by donations and as VY decommissions there will eventually be fewer of those dollars to come by.

Fewer higher paying jobs means less money in the local economy as well, she said, and nonprofits will have a harder time going to smaller businesses like restaurants and stores for donations.

And the manual labor, as well, that VY employees have offered to local organizations is going to cost them money, if it happens at all.

"We never asked them for help and had them turn us down," Baldwin said. "Vermont Yankee is a good community partner and nonprofits across the board will suffer from this. We are losing a major employer and we don’t have very many of them left. This is really, really bad."