DUMMERSTON -- After resolving a long-running dispute, Dummerston officials say they have greater confidence in the town's ability to respond to a disaster at the nearby Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
Selectboard member Tom Bodett said Wednesday that, at a meeting last week with Vermont Emergency Management officials, he gained "new perspective" that put to rest some of the governing board's concerns.
"It was a perspective that I'm amazed it's taken us this long to get," Bodett said. "We didn't know what we didn't know. That's what it comes down to."
Bodett had written an October 2011 letter detailing concerns that the town's response plan inadequately addressed critical matters such as evacuation routes, traffic control, school evacuation procedures and notifications.
The plan, town officials contended, was "unnervingly flawed."
The dispute came to a head at a Sept. 10 meeting of the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel in Vernon, where Bodett said he believed there was a "lack of urgency" among emergency planners.
"Why are we doing all this work for a plan that no one really believes in?" he said at the session.
It turned out, however, to be a productive exchange. Four days later, Bodett and Dummerston Emergency Management Director Rick Davis sat down with officials including Peter Coffey, acting director of Vermont Emergency Management.
"At the end of that meeting, I felt much better about
Among the realizations, Bodett said, was that Dummerston's plan would not be working on its own in the event of a radiological emergency. So what may have been perceived as gaps in the town's document -- for instance, a lack of information about the presence of sheriff's deputies and state police -- actually had been addressed elsewhere.
"There is an areawide plan," Bodett said. "And they think on an areawide basis."
Dummerston officials also received a detailed response from Richard Cogliano, a state emergency management official based in Brattleboro. That letter touched on several key concerns that had been raised by Bodett, including:
* Evacuation routes: Town officials had been critical of a provision routing residents in West Dummerston across Route 30 and the West River to Route 5.
Cogliano, however, said that language has been removed from the plan.
"We are not restricting travel within the (Emergency Planning Zone) but rather preventing inbound traffic," he wrote. "Traffic and residents wishing to leave via Route 30 north are welcome to do so and will not be hampered."
* Traffic control: Cogliano said that, in 2007, there were 18,809 vehicles registered in the six towns within Vermont's emergency-planning zone.
"If they were all to get on the road at once, then there would be traffic issues," Cogliano wrote. "However, the natural progression of an emergency would include a staggered evacuation. Further, the evacuation time estimate provides a reasonable approach and does not see heavy traffic tie-ups on these routes."
* School evacuations: Cogliano said that, contrary to town officials' interpretation, students "may be released to their parents prior to bus departure" if that's approved by the principal and superintendent.
He added, however, that it is "highly unlikely that the parents would arrive prior to bus departure" due to "the early nature of the precautionary transfer."
Cogliano addressed other issues including transfer and receiving centers, re-entry into an evacuated area and notification of unusual events at Vermont Yankee. He also said the state and town should work together "so that we may fix small problems before they become larger issues."
Bodett and Davis said they encouraged state officials to convene an informational meeting for emergency planners from all towns that would be involved in a Vermont Yankee evacuation.
"They were going to go back and talk about that," Bodett said.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.