Funding for Yankee evacuation planning in question

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(Host) In both the House and Senate versions of the state budget, there’s a gap that worries some neighbors of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. A $300,000 increase recommended by the Douglas administration for emergency planning has been left out. But some officials are hopeful that the increase can be restored in the conference committee in order to plan for a radiological disaster.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more:

(Keese) The only Windham County legislator on the conference committee is Vernon Representative Patty O’Donnell. O’Donnell, who is on the House Appropriations Committee, voted against the $300,000 increase. O’Donnell voted to double the funding in the 2003 budget from $400,000 to $800,000. But she says she won’t approve any more until she’s convinced the money will be spent in the five-town emergency planning zone, or EPZ.

(O’Donnell) “This has never been about not increasing the budget. This has always been about getting the money down here in the EPZ because this is where it all happens. This is the local spot and this is where the money should be spent – not in some back hole over Montpelier.”

(Keese) In approving last year’s increase, O’Donnell says her committee made provisions that each town in the emergency zone should receive $5,000 for planning. O’Donnell says that hasn’t happened.

Another condition of the 2003 emergency increase was that a local planner be hired. Steven Goldsmith was hired by the state Emergency Management Agency in March. His Brattleboro office is just getting up and running. Goldsmith says he’s aware that many residents are unhappy with current evacuation plans. He says that’s why he’s here.

(Goldsmith) “My whole position here is to assist the towns in planning. To take their plans and make the changes in their plans that need to be made to benefit the communities to make sure they can be evacuated safely if it ever came to that.”

(Keese) One aspect of the plan that citizens have found fault with calls for school children to be evacuated by bus to Bellows Falls Union High School in the event of a nuclear disaster. Citizens in Marlboro say the plan calls for them to travel toward the Yankee plant to pick up their children in Bellows Falls.

Goldsmith hopes to allay some fears by testing the school evacuation system next year. Goldsmith says local support is essential to any emergency plan’s success. But he says problems with the plans can’t get worked on unless local concerns are dealt with positively.

Part of the increase the administration asked for this year would pay for a trainer-educator to help make the public more aware of how emergency evacuation plans will work. Administration spokesmen have said they may urge the conference committee to reconsider the increase.

Before Vernon Representative O’Donnell will say yes, she wants to see a detailed plan that will convince her the money will go where it’s most needed.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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