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Three pieces of advice for towns facing a plant closure

Key points from “When People and Money Leave (and the Plant Stays)” include:

Plan, and plan for the worst

Many of the “lessons learned” preach comprehensive planning — as much of it as possible, and as early as possible. For example, though Vermont Yankee was always controversial, Windham Regional Commission stayed involved in plant proceedings over the years from a “neutral position so it could promote conversation among all sides,” officials wrote.

Also, the report notes that the Windham Region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy was developed “with the assumption that VY would, at some point, close.”

Though such conversations might be difficult when a nuclear plant has not yet been scheduled for closure, they are vitally important, officials say.

Understand the plant’s role in the community

Thorough planning and study should lead, the report says, to an in-depth understanding of a nuclear plant’s role in a community.

The report notes the high salaries associated with a nuclear plant: The average Vermont Yankee staffer earned about $105,000 annually, “which is 2{1/2} times greater than the average pay in the region,” officials wrote.

They also offer sobering advice about efforts to retain former nuclear workers. Many will be recruited to work and live elsewhere, the report says, and replacing a region’s lost wages “will likely require more jobs at a lower wage level.”

The report also notes that “there is a need to look beyond employment and income [...] to also understand the role of employees, spouses, and children in the community and civic life.” One Vermont Yankee example is the big drop in charitable contributions in the Windham Region since the plant shut down.

It costs a lot to study these issues properly

Such studies, however, come at a cost. The report warns that “there is no dedicated funding stream to assist communities with the economic impact mitigation of nuclear plant closures. You’ll need to piece together other federal, state, and local resources.”

In some cases, a local organization simply has to bear the burden. Windham Regional officials write that they’ve spent “more than $125,000 in staff time on critical decommissioning-related work and regional plan policy advocacy between 2009 and 2016 with no dedicated funding source.”

“That’s other work we’re not able to spend time on,” said Chris Campany, executive director of the Windham Regional Commission.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #379 (Wednesday, October 19, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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