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Mike Faher/VtDigger and The Commons

The historic Governor Hunt House, just outside Vermont Yankee’s front gate, is owned by Entergy but may figure into Vernon’s economic and community development plans.

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Town eyes reuse of Vermont Yankee properties

Use of former plant site is decades away, but Governor Hunt House and others buildings could support development plans

VERNON—Town officials see an “amazing opportunity” in potential reuse of Vermont Yankee property, though it isn’t the property some might initially have hoped for.

Several Vernon officials met late last month with Vermont Yankee administrators to talk about the potential for Entergy-owned parcels to figure into the town’s economic and community development plans.

There were two key takeaways from that meeting: The former plant site itself is unlikely to be available for redevelopment during decommissioning, which is expected to take decades. But Entergy is open to discussing the nearer-term reuse of property along Governor Hunt Road, including a historic building that had served as an office space and meeting area for the nuclear plant.

“That’s something that at some point we’re not going to have a need for, and we would definitely entertain a conversation with the town of Vernon,” Vermont Yankee spokesman Marty Cohn said.

Those properties could prove useful for a town that’s working to reinvent itself after the closure of its largest taxpayer and employer. “This is a partnership, for sure,” said Bob Spencer, Vernon Planning Commission chairman. “I was very pleased with the meeting.”

A welcome surprise

Vermont Yankee stopped producing power at the end of 2014, but Entergy is still preparing the property for SAFSTOR, a federally sanctioned dormancy program under which decommissioning can take up to 60 years.

That has led to speculation that the plant site could be off-limits for generations, especially given the expected long-term presence of radioactive spent nuclear fuel.

At a recent meeting of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, Entergy administrators were asked whether they’d consider releasing any portion of the Vermont Yankee site for redevelopment as decommissioning progresses.

Joe Lynch, Entergy Vermont Yankee’s government affairs manager, didn’t rule it out. But he made it sound unlikely, citing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s involvement as well as the relatively small size of the site — about 125 acres nestled between Governor Hunt Road and the Connecticut River.

“The NRC does have a process called ‘partial site release,’ but we would have to develop a license-termination plan for that parcel,” Lynch told the advisory panel. “Then you would have to go through implementation of that plan, get NRC to confirm that you’ve done it properly, and then you would release that part of the property.”

“That process is available,” Lynch added. “We haven’t gone that far at Vermont Yankee to see whether it’s worthwhile.”

In line with town plans

As plant administrators have focused on preliminary decommissioning work, Vernon officials have been exploring ways to rejuvenate the town as employment numbers continue to drop at Vermont Yankee.

There has been talk of continuing some sort of energy production in town. But residents also, through a Vermont Council on Rural Development planning process, identified priorities including enhancing the village center, opening a community store, and developing more outdoor recreation.

At the same time, Vernon officials are looking to update the town plan. On Oct. 12, the town planning commission voted to pursue grant funding to aid in that process.

The new town plan, Spencer said, will include a review of Entergy property.

Hence the Sept. 27 meeting between three members of the planning commission and Entergy representatives. When the discussion turned to land, Cohn said the company made clear what’s off the table.

“We explained to them that the property that’s in the owner-controlled area is not going to be available to the town,” he said.

What is on the table is property outside the plant’s front gate, including several Entergy-owned residences along Governor Hunt Road as well as the Governor Hunt House, built in 1789 by influential landowner and politician Jonathan Hunt.

’The door is open’

Entergy still is using the Governor Hunt House, so the company can’t make any commitments yet. But Cohn said the property may become available as a contractor transfers Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel into sealed dry casks over the next several years.

It isn’t yet clear whether the town would have to buy the property outright, or whether Entergy and Vernon officials could strike some other deal involving a land transfer. But Spencer said he believes “it’s an amazing opportunity — all of this property.”

In particular, he saw potential for the town to use Entergy property in developing a more proper village center. The town office, library, and elementary school are all located just across the street from the parcels in question.

There also has been ongoing discussion about developing a business incubator in town.

Spencer said “the door is open to consider these things.”

“The feedback [from Entergy] was, they want to support the town to the extent that they can,” Spencer said. “We had a very positive meeting.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #379 (Wednesday, October 19, 2016). This story appeared on page A6.

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