In a court document filed in the U.S. District Court for Vermont on May 31, Selectboard Chairman Michael Courtemanche declared the town of Vernon has not been able to plan effectively for the future because of the uncertainty surrounding the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
"The board had met and we met with our attorneys and I was asked by the board to put together this declaration. All of the board members read it, we went over it and worked with the attorneys to make some statements here as to how we would be affected," Courtemanche told the Reformer.
"The declaration reflects my personal understanding, which is based on my personal knowledge, conversations with other board members and their conversations (with local real estate agents, business owners, plant employees and Vernon residents)," he added. "Every one of us had a little bit of input into this document, but it needed to be stated by one person, and me being the chairman, I offered to do that."
Vernon has not received intervener status in the Entergy versus Vermont case at this time and the court could strike down Courtemanche's declaration. Activist groups opposing the plant's continued operations were not granted "leave to intervene" status when they filed in federal court.
The Selectboard has not reviewed options as far as court proceedings at this time.
Yankee, the 39-year-old nuclear facility located off Governor Hunt Road, is owned and operated by Entergy, which is currently in the midst of a legal battle with the state regarding the plant's continued operations.
While the Vermont Senate voted in February 2010 against allowing the Public Service Board to issue a certificate of public good, which every power utility needs to operate in the state, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission relicensed Yankee for an additional 20 years.
The facility's license was set to expire on March 21, 2012.
Patrick Parenteau, former director of the Vermont Law School Environmental Law Center and the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, said because Courtemanche and the town are not recognized as interested parties in the case, neither is entitled to file a motion.
"You have to be a party, you have to be an admitted party to submit evidence," he said. "You have to move to intervene the way the (New England Coalition) and the (Conservation Law Foundation) tried to do, but of course they were denied. My guess is if the town tried to intervene they too would be denied. To my knowledge, they are not a party."
Upon further review of the court documents, Parenteau said Entergy filed Courtemanche's declaration as part of its rebuttal to the state's case.
"This is their reply brief to the state's brief. This is the last brief before the hearing on (June 23), so this is what you call a rebuttal affidavit or declaration," he said. "It's their rebuttal to the state's argument that Entergy's not losing significant numbers of key staff, that's what this argument is about."
According to Courtemanche, the uncertainty over Yankee's future has caused some plant employees to leave both the plant and the immediate area because of the fear of an oversupply of former workers seeking jobs in the nuclear industry.
The town government has also expressed concern with the local tax rate (Yankee pays more than 50 percent of Vernon's property taxes), land valuations and the Vernon economy in general.
Courtemanche also anticipates a chain reaction of economic devastation in Vernon if Yankee closes:
- Teachers and students would leave the school, causing a significant pupil decrease in the district that would likely lead to layoffs and the discontinuance of educational programs and services.
- The tax base would decline so drastically some departments, such as the Vernon Police, would likely be abolished.
- Yankee contributes large amounts of donations to local nonprofits and charities, and the plant's closure would place a greater strain on public services. The company also makes substantial contributions to events within Vernon, including the annual picnic and fireworks display.
"This was one of the most difficult things that I ever had to write because there are so many uncertainties, and there are so many paths that this could travel, so how could we adequately predict what's going to happen? So these were just, I don't want to say generalizations, but depending upon what happens in one decision, it could affect (different municipal departments and services)," Courtemanche said.
Vermont's Attorney General William Sorrell said Vernon is not a party to the action and was skeptical about the arguments made in the declaration. "I'm not so sure that concerns about whether Entergy will buy fireworks for the July 4th celebration in the future is a good reason for the court to rule for Entergy in the case," Sorrell said.
On April 18, Entergy filed a complaint in federal court seeking a judgment to prevent the state of Vermont from forcing the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to cease operation in March 2012.
Entergy, the plaintiff in this civil action, has filed suit against Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin in his official capacity as governor of the state.
Richard Smith, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, said the company made every reasonable effort to accommodate the state.
"Despite the fact that Vermont Yankee is important to the reliability of the New England electric transmission grid, emits virtually no greenhouse gases, and provides more than $100 million in annual economic benefits to the state of Vermont, it has been made clear that state officials are singularly focused on shutting down the plant. That has left us with no other choice but to seek relief in the court system," Smith said in an April release.
Chris Garofolo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.