Lawmakers visit Vernon to discuss future without Vermont Yankee plant
VERNON -- Sixteen members of two state House committees specializing in economic development and energy on Monday hosted a community discussion about the impacts of Vermont Yankee's pending closure.
Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, and Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal and chairman of the Commerce Committee, anchored the panel of lawmakers from around Vermont that visited Vernon Elementary School to hear testimony from area organizations and local officials. Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, was one of the legislators on the panel.
Windham Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Chris Campany, who was accompanied by Tom Buchanan, spoke about the effects the Vermont Yankee shutdown will have on the county and its surrounding communities. Entergy, Vermont Yankee's owner, announced in August its intent to close the controversial nuclear power plant sometime in late 2014.
Campany said the regional commission has always maintained a neutral position on whether the plant should continue operation but acknowledged the plant's contribution to individual municipalities, the region as a whole, the state and the nearby communities of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He said Vermont Yankee employs approximately 620 workers in the tri-state area, with a payroll of about $65.7 million. He also said Entergy has noted that Yankee's workforce will decrease from 620 to about 250 over a nine-to-12-month period. After a brief boost to "button up" the plant, it would plummet to about 50 -- and if past residency ratios remain consistent, only 20 of those workers will live in Vermont.
The plant accounts for roughly 2 percent of all employment and 5 percent of all compensation earned in Windham County, said Campany, who added that it also donates $300,000 to $400,000 to around 100 organizations.
He said Vernon will definitely face the most acute effects of the closure. Vermont Yankee, he said, employs 84 Vernon residents with 61 spouses and 129 children. This makes up approximately 12.4 percent of Vernon's population.
According Campany's statistics, Vermont Yankee paid $1,147,399.96 in taxes to Vernon for the 2011-12 tax year and this constitutes 48.5 percent of the total town tax receipts of $2,364,334.22 for that year.
"The station occupies land along the Connecticut River that is of substantial economic value. The long-term beneficial use of this land, especially commercial use, is important to the state and region," he said. "It is the WRC's position that any delay in returning this land to productive use following the eventual closure of the plant would have negative effects upon the economy of the state and region."
Hebert chimed in and said for Vernon the closure will have a long-lasting effect on the town.
Campany said Entergy continues to seek a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) from the Vermont Public Service Board and the regional commission wants an outcome that will support the fiscal well-being of its towns.
Buchanan, chairman of the Vermont Yankee Study Committee, said that fact that VY made its announcement a year ahead of its expected date of closure will make the economic impact something of a "soft landing." He then cited a report sent to the Public Service Board that states site restoration would cost between $94 million and $125.8 million. An extra $100 million might have to be paid if Entergy is required to remove all structures from the land.
Pat Moulton Powden, director of Workforce Development at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC), Laura Sibilia, executive director of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS) and Stephan Morse, chairman of the Post-VY Committee, then addressed the panel of legislators at approximately 2:15 p.m. Monday. Powden and Sibilia explained what their organizations do and lobbied the lawmakers in front of them to help nearby towns absorb the economic blow expected to come when Vermont Yankee closes for good.
BDCC, established in 1954, is a private non-profit regional economic development organization managing a $2 million annual operating budget. BDCC's primary objective is to create and retain a vibrant business community in the region it serves and improve the quality of life of all its residents. It is affiliated with the state as the certified Regional Development Corporation (RDC) serving the greater Windham County area. BDCC is one of 12 RDCs throughout Vermont and provides staffing and some funding for SeVEDS, which exists to reverse the economic decline of the Windham Region.
According to Sibilia, SeVEDS is also dedicated to reversing the area's decline in population and improving the quality of the workforce. She said the organization has a goal to increase the average annual salary of employees with an associate's degree from $27,669 to $32,328 and of those with a bachelor's degree from $34,155 to $40,597.
Powden said the news of VY's pending closure means the BDCC, SeVEDS and the Vermont Legislature needs to turn up the heat on their efforts.
"We're going to feel the pain, we're going to feel the stress," she said. "We need your help. This is not a small impact."
Botzow said he sympathized with Vernon and the uncertain future it faces, as he represents a town of 3,200 that once lost 1,200 jobs when three large employers left.
Following the hearing, the public was allowed to comment on their concerns.
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