Regional leaders reflect on lessons learned from Vermont Yankee closure
by Emily Blake
Nov 01, 2016 | 5749 views | 0 0 comments | 128 128 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Vermont Yankee during its time as an operating nuclear power plant.
Vermont Yankee during its time as an operating nuclear power plant.
BRATTLEBORO- A presentation was held Friday, October 14, at Brooks House Atrium regarding the lessons learned from the closure of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon. It was hosted by a tri-state region team comprising the Windham Regional Commission and Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, the Franklin, MA, Regional Council of Massachusetts, and New Hampshire’s Southwest Region Planning Commission. The presentation was also streamed live on Facebook.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station officially shut down in December 2014. The majority of its employees resided in Windham County, Cheshire County, NH, and Franklin County, MA. The effects this closure will have on communities throughout this tri-state region will continue to unfold in the coming years.

Adam Grinold, executive director of the BDCC, opened the presentation. “While the discussion here today relates specifically to the closure of a nuclear power plant in a rural area, the lessons learned are applicable to any locale that will, or could lose a major employer, a large source of local income, a major contributor to the local tax base, or a major contributor to charitable organizations, both through funding as well as volunteer time,” Grinold said.

Rep. Peter Welch acknowledged the challenge the region faces as a result of the VY closure, which he said had accounted for half a million dollars in economic activity.

“Fortunately, the region is ready,” Welch said.

Welch emphasized the importance of being a model for future closures of nuclear power stations.

He also said the next big debate will be what to do with the closed facility. “We’re in a new place now,” Welch said. “This is a shut down facility that is occupying an immense asset within this region. There are fundamental questions about how to get that asset back into use. If that facility shuts down, all that economic activity disappears and it has to be replaced.”

While Welch, Sen. Patrick Leahy, and Sen. Bernie Sanders advocate for the community in Washington, DC, he said it’s the community that will play an essential role in this process.

“We absolutely, in the community, have to have a place at the table constantly; the community is the essential player here,” Welch said. He said he is inspired by the “all-in approach” and the advocacy he sees already by local communities and their elected officials.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine said the US Economic Development Administration has been a proud partner for communities in Vermont, and that since 2008 the EDA has invested $22 million in Vermont to support 25 economic development projects expected to help create or save more than 2,700 jobs and generate $50 million in private investment. “At EDA we play a very important role in helping communities plan and focus on economic recovery and resilience, be it changing demographics, natural disasters or the closure of a major employer,” Erskine said.

Erskine commended the efforts made by the tri-state region team. “The approach taken here has the key elements of successful, long-term, and sustainable economic development,” Erskine said. “(This model) can and will be used by other communities facing similar challenges. By sharing the knowledge you have gained and the action plans you have put in place, other towns, regions, and communities across the nation will learn from your experience to help set their course forward.”

Chris Campany, executive director of the WRC, addressed the findings outlined in a report drafted in response to the closure of Vermont Yankee. The report was researched and written by Campany; Laura Sibilia, director of economic development of the BDCC; Linda Dunlavy, executive director of the FRCOG; and Tim Murphy, executive director of the SWRPC. The report is available to the public on the BDCC website.

The report aims to assist readers in understanding the types of questions they will have and want to ask, the kinds of information they will want to gather or develop, and things to keep in mind when organizing to act.

The report says the closure of a nuclear power plant differs from the closure of another large company, such as a manufacturer, because nuclear power plant employees are highly skilled and in high demand. They will likely stay in their industry and be recruited to work in a different location. They also earned an average of $105,000 annually, so although Vermont Yankee only employed 0.7% of the tri-state area population, it accounted for 1.8% of the income in the region.

This means that communities lose not only jobs, but also workers, entire families, and the contribution their high incomes made to the communities.

In conclusion, the report notes that a single economic solution might be more desirable, but it is less realistic. “Perhaps a more effective approach is to identify other important economic clusters and find ways to strengthen them. Especially with the closure of a nuclear power plant, it is unlikely that the region will find relevant replacement positions for nuclear scientists and engineers,” according to the report.

Since the report does not reflect the views or experiences of the communities themselves, residents are encouraged to participate in the process and share their own stories and thoughts. Campany noted that Vermont officials “are incredibly easy to access.”
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