BRATTLEBORO—The next round of job cuts at Vermont Yankee has been scheduled for May 5, when 150 employees — roughly half the remaining workforce — will be laid off.
Also, around that same time, plant owner Entergy will be vacating its offices on Old Ferry Road. Administrators are “looking at [their] options,” which could include selling the property, a spokesman said.
Both the job cuts and the corporate relocation are directly connected to federally approved emergency planning cutbacks at Vermont Yankee. But company administrators are offering assurances that those changes don’t mean the end of safety measures at the shutdown nuclear plant.
“There will be an emergency-response organization,” Entergy VY spokesman Marty Cohn said. “It’s just that it will be reduced.”
Some of the biggest changes at the plant in 2016 will involve emergency operations.
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission in December approved exemptions and a license amendment that allow Vermont Yankee’s emergency planning zone (EPZ) — which currently includes all or part of 18 towns in three states — to shrink to the boundaries of the plant itself. The changes take effect April 15.
Vermont officials had opposed those changes, citing the ongoing presence of spent nuclear fuel in a pool at the plant’s reactor building. But NRC officials ruled that “the risk of an offsite radiological release is significantly lower and the types of possible accidents significantly fewer at a nuclear power reactor that has permanently ceased operations and removed fuel from the reactor vessel.”
The NRC noted that Vermont Yankee still is required to “maintain an onsite emergency plan and response capabilities, including the continued notification of state government officials of an emergency declaration.”
The change means the end of millions of dollars in annual Entergy support for emergency planning in the EPZ towns and states. The company also will not maintain warning sirens or provide tone-alert radios and potassium iodide.
Internally, Entergy will drastically downsize its emergency operations, including elimination of the joint information center and other facilities in Brattleboro.
Reduced emergency operations mean big job cuts at Vermont Yankee. Cohn said May 5 — a little less than three weeks after the NRC’s rulings take effect — has been set as the date for 150 layoffs, all of which are related to the company’s decreased emergency responsibilities.
Fewer than 300 Vermont Yankee staffers remain from a workforce that had stood at about 550 before shutdown in 2014. Vermont Yankee’s pending reduction to a workforce of fewer than 150 threatens to knock it off the list of the county’s top 10 employers.
Combatting the job loss
There’s no replacing a plant where the average wage, according to a 2014 study, was $105,000. But officials have attempted to combat the Vermont Yankee job loss in other ways.
For instance, there are detailed steps in the Windham Region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for combating the economic impacts of Yankee’s closure.
And Entergy, as part of a shutdown settlement with the state, is paying $2 million annually for the next five years to support economic development in Windham County.
That fund—called the Windham County Economic Development Program—already has been used to help preserve 300 jobs at G.S. Precision in Brattleboro and to allow for the company’s expansion. That’s one way to combat the effect of VY job loss, said Adam Grinold, executive director of Brattleboro Development Credit Corp (BDCC).
Grinold also cited the CEDS and other work done by Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies as roadmaps for long-term, post-VY economic recovery and growth in the region.
“We follow those strategies every day in what we do,” he said.
For the short term, Grinold said BDCC will try to help those who lose their jobs at VY and want to transition into the local labor force.
“We continue to speak with Entergy and have good dialogue with them and the (state) Department of Labor, and we hope to learn more about the specific types of layoffs,” Grinold said. “As that comes, we look to be able to assist with any local transition.”
Assistance for VY employees
As was the case with the first round of Vermont Yankee layoffs in early 2015, Cohn said Entergy has sought to advise and assist those who are headed for the exit in 2016.
“We’ve already conducted a number of seminars. We’re working very closely with the departments of labor in the tri-state area,” Cohn said. “We’ve had a resume-writing seminar. And there will be one on retirement.”
Plant administrators also are trying to place some departing VY employees at other Entergy nuclear facilities. That effort has grown more complicated, though, with last year’s announcements that Entergy will be shutting down both the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, Mass., and the FitzPatrick plant in Scriba, N.Y., over the next several years.
Cohn said Vermont Yankee Site Vice President Chris Wamser has met with administrators at other plants to talk about staffing needs. “We’re doing a job-match that way, with other Entergy facilities,” he said.
Plans for building not yet determined
Vermont Yankee’s layoffs and scaled-back emergency operations will mean no more VY staffers at the Old Ferry Road offices. Already, Cohn said, most of the remaining employees have relocated to the Vernon plant site.
“What we do with the building is something that we’re talking about right now,” said Cohn, including potentially selling the property.
Town documents show that Entergy owns two parcels on Old Ferry Road. One 4.86 acre tract was valued at $299,380 in 2014; another 2.06 acre parcel was valued at $222,070, and the building on it was worth $1.62 million, according to Brattleboro’s grand list.
The office’s location could be desirable, as there is ample parking and an interstate exit nearby. But Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell said the property is not under consideration for the town’s long-sought police-fire headquarters.
“It was a property we knew would be becoming available, so we did take a look at [the Entergy offices],” Elwell said.
He reiterated, though, that the town has purchased an option on the current Brattleboro Reformer building on Black Mountain Road with the idea that it may become a police-fire facility.
The town’s plans aside, local officials say they don’t expect that the Old Ferry Road site will remain vacant for the long term once Entergy leaves.
“I’m sure there will be interest in that property,” Grinold said. “It is a well-maintained piece of property that can have many uses.”