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Voices / Viewpoint

Vernon’s voice must be heard

Post-Vermont Yankee, the town needs support to build its future — and that will require approval of the NorthStar purchase for faster decommissioning

Adam Grinold is serving as executive director for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, a private, nonprofit economic development organization serving Windham County, and he also serves on the board of directors of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS).

Brattleboro

The Vermont Public Utilities Commission has been undertaking proceedings on the sale of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The town of Vernon, eager to create a path forward, has concluded the sale is a crucial step toward a timely and complete recovery from the closure.

The Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) agrees that if a safe, accelerated decommissioning is environmentally and financially possible, it would benefit the economic recovery of Vernon, the Windham County region, and the state of Vermont more so than the current mode of SAFSTOR, which entails cleanup being delayed for decades.

The BDCC’s interest in the current proceedings is mitigating major, long-term negative economic impacts caused by the plant’s closure: loss of jobs, people, tax revenues, and payroll.

BDCC has advised Vernon on participation in the Public Utilities Commission process. Last week, we provided a public statement of support for Vernon’s position in the proceeding, in support of a rapid, safe, and financially sound cleanup.

* * *

Vernon has worked hard to respond to changes to its tax base and to its future prospects. The town has begun to articulate what it needs from the closure process. It has begun to develop a shared vision, and plans to realize that vision, through the Vermont Council on Rural Development Process, in which the BDCC and many local, state, and federal partners took part.

The BDCC will continue to work with other area partners in helping Vernon implement the community’s local goals, such as an expanded village center, establishing new local businesses, or writing a new chapter in the town’s long history as an energy provider for the region.

Three elements will help Vernon to succeed:

1. A rapid decommissioning that is safe and financially sound, as an alternative to SAFSTOR.

2. A strong regional economy to support recovery. BDCC is committed to replacing the lost VY jobs, economic activity, and tax revenues, and we will continue to focus on increasing jobs, businesses, and opportunities here to offset the closure’s impact.

Through research and testimony, BDCC and regional partners helped secure $10 million in the VY closure agreement to establish the Windham Economic Development Program. BDCC partners with the state to implement WCEDP and dozens of other programs to build a vibrant regional economy. This work is guided by the Windham Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS), outlining the region’s challenges, its assets, and what we can do to improve the economy.

3. Local initiatives and investment. Vernon is following a planning process similar to BDCC and SeVEDS (Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies) regional planning — an asset-based approach to economic recovery and growth. BDCC supports strategic planning and investment that can bring these plans to life.

* * *

By 2011, BDCC and SeVEDS had begun to highlight the pivotal role VY played in the regional economy. We have since then worked to attract attention, build capacity, find resources, and respond to the VY closure, all within a context where baseline economic challenges are serious.

Since most U.S. nuclear power plants are located in rural areas — based on nuclear siting rules that proscribed low- population areas — plants tend to have an oversize impact on a small economy and to be found in locations with little local economic development capacity.

BDCC has worked hard to overcome these factors at a regional level. But Vernon finds that its future is deeply tied to the VY site. Therefore, a PUC decision that will allow economic reuse and redevelopment of the site to realize the town’s goals — including for recreational use, new energy production, an expanded village center, and/or industrial development uses, as articulated in Vernon’s approved Town Plan — would substantially expand available options for the town.

Vernon’s voice should be heard during these proceedings, to ensure that outcomes honor the community’s wishes for economic recovery and future plans.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #443 (Wednesday, January 24, 2018). This story appeared on page D3.

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