This Reformer file photo shows students at Brattleboro Union High School boarding buses during an evacuation drill.
This Reformer file photo shows students at Brattleboro Union High School boarding buses during an evacuation drill.
Wednesday October 17, 2012

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories dealing with emergency preparedness in the10-mile evacuation zone around Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

BRATTLEBORO -- The Vermont towns in the Emergency Preparedness Zone around Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon have submitted their Radiological Emergency Response Plan funding requests to the state, which is in the process of evaluating them.

Following the evaluation, representatives from Vermont Emergency Management will meet with representatives from Entergy, which owns and operates the plant.

"The process is still under way," said Joe Flynn, the new director of VEM. "Nothing has been determined yet."

VEM will then "negotiate" an agreement with Entergy that is then forwarded to the Department of Public Service for review, the Legislature for approval, and the governor for his signature.

"It behooves us if everyone is on board going forward so we can make a valid recommendation," said Erica Borneman, VEM's emergency management project specialist.

However, said John Angil, RERP program director in Brattleboro, "The law says that what the Legislature passes, Entergy has to fund."

Prior to 2006, Entergy paid directly to the towns, but it proved very disjointed, said Borneman. Act 20 was approved to remedy the situation.

The process is much more streamlined now, she said, and it makes it easier for the Vermont towns in the EPZ to get the money they need.

Some parts of the budget requests are static from year to year, said Borneman, such as a $20,000 stipend for each town's emergency management director and $4,000 for training.

"Anything above and beyond requires written justification," she said. Those are the requests that are currently under review.

VEM, the towns and Entergy are currently working on the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget. The 2012-2013 budget came in at $2.3 million. The 2011-2012 budget was $3 million because it included the response to a leak of tritiated water at the plant.

The Vermont Department of Health gets a slice of the payment from Entergy for its ongoing radiological surveillance of the plant. In addition, other departments get payments for their roles in the response plan. They include Agriculture, Transportation and Labor. A portion also goes toward VEM staff in Brattleboro and in Waterbury.

Equipment, resources and materials funded through RERP are intended to be used only for drills and an actual response to an emergency at Yankee.

But, said Flynn, the state is not going to hand a bill to a town that uses some of that training or equipment to respond to a disaster such as that inflicted by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.

"We use common sense and reason," he said.

In addition to the towns and government agencies, organizations such as the Windham County Sheriff's Department, Rescue Inc. and the Red Cross also submit requests.

Earlier this week, representatives from the Vermont & New Hampshire Valley Red Cross met with VEM and explained its $700,000 request, which is meant to cover a shortfall Red Cross has determined it needs to fully prepare for the sheltering of up to 6,000 people in case of an emergency at Yankee.

"We met for over three hours," said Larry Crist, regional executive for the Red Cross. "We started with our submission and went over it line by line. They could not find anything in our proposal that should have been done differently."

Crist said the funding is needed to update plans that have been in place for 20 years.

"We need to create something new that should have been done some time ago," he said. "VEM recognizes it has an immediate problem. It has a plan that can't be carried out."

VEM has been meeting with Entergy about the Red Cross plan, said Jim Sinclair, spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee.

"We've been asking questions to have a better understanding for the basis of the request," he said. "A lot of requests for funding have been reviewed over time and are an annual operating expense. This one, because of its nature and size, we certainly want to understand it."

What is appropriate funding for the Radiological Emergency Response Plan has been hotly debated since 2002, when Entergy bought the plant from a consortium of power utilities.

Since 1982, Yankee had contributed $400,000 a year to the RERP, an amount that in 2002 Deputy Secretary of the Administration Glenn Gershaneck said paid for emergency drills, but could not cover the actual costs of a full-scale emergency response.

"There was a lot of hostility between the parties," said Gershaneck. "Our take was that we didn't create the situation but we were being required to develop this response plan."

He said there wasn't much confidence in the plan at that time because it was basically, "A package of papers that was sitting on a shelf and would only be rolled out when we have the big event."

That same year, Gov. Howard Dean's administration asked for a doubling in funding, from $400,000 to $800,000, to which Entergy agreed.

But shortly thereafter, the administration asked that the fund be increased to $2.2 million, to which Brian Cosgrove, who was then Yankee's director of emergency planning, said it would be throwing "money down a rathole," though he did say a proper accounting of expenditures could justify the increase.

The controversy eventually led to the introduction and approval of Act 20.

In Thursday's Reformer, town officials discuss the efficacy of the funding process.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.