Vernon Plans For Uncertain Future

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(Host) In Vernon, these are uncertain times. The town stands to lose half its tax base  — and much more — if the state  wins its court battle to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant this spring.

Most of Vernon hopes the plant will stay open. But the town has little say in that, or any of the looming decisions certain to affect its future.

As VPR’s Susan Keese reports, this dilemma makes planning both difficult — and necessary.

(Keese) Vernon selectboard chairman Mike Courtemanche says his hopes rise and fall with the news.

(Courtemanche) "You know, the state legislature decided they didn’t want to relicense Yankee, we’ve got the judge who didn’t give Yankee the injunction to operate during the trial."

(Keese) Those were bad days, Courtemanche says. The recent decision by Entergy, the power plant’s owner, to order $60 million worth of new fuel – that was good news.

(Courtemanche) "And I think, based on the statement that they released, that they have a lot of confidence in their case right now."

(Keese) That makes Vernon feel more confident.

(Courtemanche) " If they were to make the decision not to refuel until they get the go ahead to extend their license, my fear would be that some of the employees would begin to think about leaving. And we would see an exodus from town."

(Keese) Courtemanche pictures empty homes, plummeting property values and declining schools – not to mention losing volunteer coaches, firefighters and some of the region’s highest-paid consumers.

Vernon has been paying lobbyists to keep tabs on happenings in Montpelier, ­and to make sure lawmakers hear the town’s side of the debate.

Yankee pays a million dollars in taxes annually to Vernon and many millions to the state education fund.

Courtemanche is on a town committee seeking ways to compensate for the loss of revenue – whether the plant closes in 2012 or even 20 years later.

(Courtemanche) "From the preliminary conversations I’ve had with the appraiser, the spent fuel isn’t really taxable. But I think we could tax the dry casks."

(Keese) Vernon residents are also working with the Windham Regional Commission. They’re looking at reports from military base closings and  from nuclear plants that have closed in Massachusetts  and Maine.

Chris Campany, the commission’s director, says the two New England plants were decommissioned and dismantled immediately after closing.

(Campany) "And that take many years to do, and under that scenario the employment impacts and the grand list impacts aren’t as acute, because you have time to absorb the changes. More of the current employees would actually stay on and assist with the decommissioning."

(Keese) The most feared scenario is an option called safestore, in which a plant can be mothballed for sixty years or more before decommissioning begins.

That would leave Vernon with a sudden loss of income, and a sprawling, unusable property on its hands for decades.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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