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The Commons
News

State gives tribes role in sale of Vermont Yankee

Two Abenaki tribes approved as intervenors as Public Service Board weighs approval of sale from Entergy to NorthStar

Originally published in The Commons issue #402 (Wednesday, April 5, 2017).



VERNON—State officials are allowing two Native American tribes to get involved in the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee.

The Vermont Public Service board has ruled that both the Elnu Abenaki and Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi can act as “intervenors” in the state’s review of the plant’s purchase by NorthStar Group Services, a New York decommissioning company.

Both NorthStar and current owner Entergy had objected to the Missisquoi Abenaki’s intervention. But the Public Service Board sided with the tribe, saying its concerns about future use of the power plant site are relevant to the matter at hand.

In its request for intervention, the Swanton-based Missisquoi had summed up its concerns this way: “Our tribe wishes to participate in the process that will determine how the former nuclear power plant site is utilized in the future in order that we safeguard the heritage of our past.”

Entergy, which stopped producing power at Vermont Yankee at the end of 2014, wants to sell the Vernon site to NorthStar by the end of 2018.

While Entergy’s decommissioning plan could have taken up to 60 years, NorthStar has promised to clean up the majority of the property by the end of 2030.

The sale is subject to approval by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state Public Service Board.

The board’s review, which will focus in part on NorthStar’s site restoration plans, has attracted much interest in the form of intervenors — those who want to become a formal party to the process. The Public Service Board now has approved 10 intervention applications.

Both of the Abenaki requests came after the state’s March 1 deadline for such filings. But there were no objections to the Windham County-based Elnu Abenaki’s motion, and the board granted it on March 17.

The Elnu Abenaki had said the “area of effect” for the Vermont Yankee decommissioning project “lies directly upon historically documented and culturally significant homelands.” A local spokesman has said the tribe isn’t opposed to the sale but wants to learn more about NorthStar’s plans.

Similarly, the Missisquoi Abenaki also cited “culturally significant sites near Vermont Yankee and the Connecticut River.”

But that tribe’s request for intervention came even later than the Elnu tribe’s, drawing an objection from Entergy and NorthStar.

The companies also argued that the Missisquoi’s concern is irrelevant to the Public Service Board’s review “because the future use of the site is not part of this proceeding.”

Entergy and NorthStar “have mentioned only the possibility of a solar power project or other light industrial use on the site and are not now seeking approval of such use, which would be the subject of a future [Public Service Board] proceeding,” the companies wrote.

The Public Service Board, in granting the Missisquoi’s intervention request on March 24, overruled those objections.

On the topic of timeliness, board members noted that their review “is still at an early stage.” Granting the tribe’s request “will not unduly delay the proceeding or prejudice the interests of existing parties or of the public,” officials said.

In ruling on the relevance of the tribe’s motion, board members noted that Entergy and NorthStar are asking for the state’s approval of site restoration standards.

“These site restoration standards could affect future uses of the site,” the board said. “Such potential impacts fall within the particular interests of the [tribe].”

In addition to the Abenaki tribes, there have been eight other intervenors approved by the board in connection with the Vermont Yankee sale.

They are the Conservation Law Foundation; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Associated Industries of Vermont; the state Agency of Natural Resources; the state Attorney General; the Vernon Planning and Economic Development Commission; the New England Coalition; and the Windham Regional Commission.

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