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Vernon fears disruption

Residents concerned about possible activity at VY on anniversary of license renewal

VERNON—Thursday morning marks the first day of the rest of Vermont Yankee’s life.

With the expiration of the original 40-year operating license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as the expiration of the original Certificate of Public Good (CPG) from the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB), the nuclear power plant in Vernon enters a new phase of its operations.

The plant’s owner, Entergy, got a 20-year license extension from the NRC last March. The new CPG has yet to be issued by the PSB. And a final determination on whether the state of Vermont has the authority to shut the plant down is up to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court.

For the plant’s opponents, Thursday marks the beginning of a new phase of protests aimed at shutting the plant down.

A protest is planned at Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee’s corporate offices on Old Ferry Road that day, according to the anti-nuclear group Safe and Green Alliance, but nothing is planned that day in Vernon.

For the people inside the plant, Thursday is expected to just another day, according to Entergy spokesman Larry Smith.

“We greatly appreciate the backing of our supporters and respect the rights of opponents to peacefully protest,” Smith said in a news release. “Inside the gates, our 650 employees will not be distracted. As they do every day, their focus on safety is laser sharp. Anything that occurs outside the property will be coordinated by local and state law enforcement authorities.”

At a public meeting at the Vernon Elementary School last Thursday, about 100 residents heard from town officials about preparations for any potential civil unrest.

Despite assurances at the meeting by Randy Kehler and Bob Bady from the Safe and Green Campaign that there will not be a formal protest in Vernon on Thursday, the town is preparing for the possibility of a large-scale event.

Selectboard Chair Patricia O’Donnell, who moderated the meeting, said the goal was to ease the concerns of residents who fear a massive disruption of their daily lives if there are big anti-nuclear protests in Vernon.

Police Chief Mary Beth Hebert said her department has been planning for years for this week, and that there is a plan in place.

“We’ll see more demonstrations, but that’s nothing new to us,” she said.

Vernon Police will be working with Brattleboro Police, the Windham County Sheriff’s Department, and Vermont State Police to keep the peace.

She also said that her department has worked with Safe and Green, and other anti-nuclear groups. She said all have carefully detailed their plans to her and have been fully cooperative.

“From our experience, we have had zero incidents,” Hebert said. “Absolutely zero.”

Just the same, virtually every bit of property along Governor Hunt Road has been strung with rope lines and “No Trespassing” signs. The same holds true in Brattleboro, on Old Ferry Road around the Entergy offices.

The Vernon Elementary School and the Vernon Town Offices and Library, both on Governor Hunt Road, will go on lockdown status on Thursday. Vehicular access to the road itself will be limited to VY workers, school buses, emergency vehicles, and residents.

Some residents pointedly questioned O’Donnell about the process for obtaining a permit to protest. She said that the town is trying to carefully balance the constitutional right to free speech with the needs of the town and public safety, but the Selectboard has not yet been able to come up with a more restrictive policy that will pass legal muster.

Kehler, from Colrain, Mass., and Bady, a Brattleboro resident, carefully outlined what was planned for anti-VY protests this week, and also outlined the code of nonviolence that each participant has been asked to follow.

“Our intention is to respect everyone and hope we are respected in return,” said Kehler.

Kehler and Bady received a polite hearing from the residents in attendance for about 15 minutes, but toward the end of their presentation, the mood turned decidedly hostile, particularly after Bady said he wanted to see VY closed.

Some were not convinced that Vernon would be quiet on Thursday, citing Internet posts and flyers around the area calling for mass civil disobedience.

“We’ve always told [the police] exactly what we plan to do, and we always do that,” Bady said. “We’re not into guerilla actions. We’re committed to not disrupting anybody’s life in this town.”

After more complaints from residents about having to pay for the cost of having the police at protests, and others who feared seeing an Occupy Wall Street-type encampment in Vernon, the nearly two-hour meeting ended with a plea for patience by O’Donnell to residents.

“Don’t take the law into your own hands,” she said. “At the end of the day, the worst thing would be if someone from Vernon was arrested for breaking the law. It’s not worth it.”

Kehler said he was glad that he and Bady went to the meeting, but that “it was scary to think there were people that angry, that threatening, and that disrespectful when Bob and I obviously tried to be friendly, courteous, and respectful of them and to let them know what was happening.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #144 (Wednesday, March 21, 2012).

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