Saturday March 16, 2013

A closer look
at the process

Editor of the Reformer:

Jon Mack’s timely description ("Cell tower approval process undermines democracy," Feb. 16-17) of dealing with Vermont law and the Public Service Board regarding cell tower placement in Newfane is clear and perceptive. It is not only descriptive; it gets at basic principles and issues.

Everything in his account also applies to a town asserting its interests relative to any construction project within the jurisdiction of the PSB, including electric power generation. There are technical differences and a huge difference in scale and impact between a cell tower and 10 or 15 churning wind turbines 500 feet tall, but the position of the town and its citizens relative to the project developer and the PSB is the same. If it chooses to challenge them, the "host" town is at great legal and financial disadvantage.

In evaluating benefit to the state as a whole relative to state utility policies, the PSB is only required to give "due consideration" to issues that are brought up as it decides on a developer’s proposal. It may find, as in Newfane, that there is an adverse, but not "unduly adverse" effect of a project. Town governments, and rarely individuals, can be participants in a case, but in fact have little effective influence as described in Jon Mack’s article. Working against teams of specialized professionals representing the big money of wind power development, a town can assert its interests only through great expenditure of time and effort by town officers and other volunteers plus thousands of dollars for legal assistance.

Commercial wind power projects present many negative impacts that are not adequately addressed by the PSB process. Vermont needs a time-out to evaluate positive and negative aspects of the wind power developments that already exist and to bring wind power under the jurisdiction of Act 250. This would provide for local and regional planning participation as now exists for other industrial developments with extensive land use and social impacts.

Bills for this purpose are coming up in the Legislature. Residents of every town on the VELCO power transmission corridor in Windham County need to pay particular attention and support these legislative efforts. Proximity to VELCO lines is essential for siting wind power projects. The Coolidge Connector runs through the Windham/Grafton site and continues south through six towns into Vernon. It comes near to Putney and Marlboro. Any accessible ridge close enough to this line or to the East-West Connector that arcs over from Arlington to Dummerston, could be a target of wind power developers. We don’t know, because these projects are planned quietly, over months or years, and there are no guidelines or rules determining where they can go. A potential wind power site does not necessarily have to be very large acreage, or at particularly high elevation, or away from habitations. The first a community may know about it is when the developer applies to the PSB, and the town has 30 days to make its initial response.

Michael Boylen,

Marlboro, March 6

On the new Pope and animals’ rights

Editor of the Reformer:

I was delighted to learn that the newly elected pope chose for himself the name of St. Francis of Assisi, generally known as patron saint of the animals. Indeed, Catholic and Anglican churches hold ceremonies blessing animals on his feast day of Oct. 4.

On one of his nature walks, Francis reportedly preached to the birds and is often portrayed with a bird in his hand. On another occasion, Francis concluded a pact with a ferocious wolf that was terrorizing local townsfolk, whereby the wolf would quit preying on the town’s sheep in exchange for being fed regularly. He even persuaded local dogs to stop harassing the wolf. He freed a rabbit from a trap, returned caught fish to their stream, and fed half-frozen bees in winter-time.

I hope that Pope Francis will inspire Catholics and all persons of goodwill to show non-human animals the respect and compassion they so richly deserve, particularly when it comes to subsidizing their abuse and slaughter for food at the checkout counter. Joining the Meatless Mondays trend may be a good start.

Kyle Roberts,

Brattleboro, March 14

On VY radiation levels ...

Editor of the Reformer:

In Montpelier earlier this month, Entergy, owner and operator of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, brings multiple law firms to bear down on the Vermont Public Service Board, the quasi-judicial regulatory board regarding electricity and telecommunications in Vermont.

I counter the lawyers who claim all citizen concerns, tourism and Vermont brand concerns are safety related and therefore should be pre-empted to only the federal courts or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Entergy stated under oath to the PSB or other state entities: That it would always obey Vermont law; only one pipe carried radio-nuclides and it was capped years ago; it would seek permission prior to any on-site construction; it would not seek federal pre-emption; and it would monitor the temperature of the ISFSI dry casks.

And then there’s this: The power uprate resulted in increased gamma emissions from the Yankee reactor. The Vermont Radiation Protection Rule then specified a limit of 20 mrem per year at any single point on the fenceline, where radiation has been monitored since 1972. To circumvent this limit, Entergy began reporting calculated fenceline levels (rather than measuring and monitoring) using an expired (no longer given credence) formula to determine shield wall thickness, and never intended for estimating public radiation exposures. This formula discounted the actual measured radiation at the fenceline by 60 percent. When it was revealed by Vermont Department of Health that Entergy had exceeded the fenceline radiation limit even before the uprate, Entergy objected and over a five-year period got the state to change the radiation regulations to suit their calculating methods. This was done by VDH without the required public process of changing the regulations under the Administrative Rules Act.

Public outcry (more than 700 letters to VDH in a short, Legislature ordered, two-week comment period and a year of hearings on the subject) resulted in a radical rewriting of the state’s rad rules (and loss of the independent effluent limits and consequences, including shutdown), however the 60 percent fudge factor remained -- in the ingestible radiation side (air, water, environmental monitoring), but not the direct gamma levels at the fenceline. The public gained that much. To get around this new limit (really, just the old limit which they could no longer meet, due to the uprate), Entergy began buying up private property along its fenceline and moving the monitors and the fence closer to the Vernon school. More radiation, measured further away. The PSB does know with whom it is dealing.

Gary Sachs,

Brattleboro, Feb. 15

Reunion planning

Editor of the Reformer:

The Brattleboro Union High School Class of 1988 is holding a planning meeting for its 25th reunion on Tuesday, March 19, at 5:30 p.m. at 439 West River Road, Brattleboro (Professional Center on Route 30 just past the I-91 overpass). If you are available we would love to see you and get your input. If you have questions or are able to attend please e-mail me at m_snow_84@yahoo.com.

Missy Snow,

Charlestown, N.H., March 12