DUMMERSTON -- After years of debate, Dummerston Selectboard has approved a plan that details the town's response in the event of an emergency at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
But the divided board did not offer a ringing endorsement: Even the three members who signed off on the plan inserted the phrase "with reservations" into their affirmative vote, with each saying they doubted the document's effectiveness.
"It's hard for me to sign it," Selectboard member Steve Glabach said. "At some point you sign on, even though you don't like the taste of it."
Selectboard members repeatedly have cast doubt on the feasibility of what is known as a "radiological emergency response plan." In an October 2011 letter, the board said the plan inadequately addressed issues such as evacuation routes, traffic control, school-evacuation procedures and emergency notifications.
The dispute again went public 11 months later at a meeting of the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel in Vernon, where then-Dummerston Selectboard member Tom Bodett criticized a "lack of urgency" among emergency planners.
Shortly thereafter, Selectboard members said a meeting with Vermont Emergency Management officials had alleviated some of their concerns. And in February, Dummerston Emergency Management Director Rick Davis detailed changes and clarifications meant to address the Selectboard's questions about the plan.
But the board still would not sign the document. In recent months, Davis often had attended meetings to request plan approval, only to be turned away as the Selectboard asked for changes or further review.
At Wednesday's Selectboard meeting, Davis' frustration was evident.
"You guys gave me a job to do. Getting this signed is part of the job," Davis said. "I'm going to be back every single meeting."
That came after board Chairman Zeke Goodband declared that he still could not vote for the response plan. Goodband said his primary concern remains a lack of adequate shelter for evacuees.
In an attempt to address that issue, the Vermont Legislature on Tuesday voted to appropriate $250,000 to the American Red Cross "to enhance sheltering capacity in response to any potential future incident involving the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant."
It is meant as "the first in a multiyear plan" to boost emergency shelters for those living near the Vernon plant.
Goodband acknowledged that change but said he believes "it will take a while before this is resolved."
"The issue right now is, if we do evacuate the town tonight, many residents are going to have to live in their cars for maybe up to several days because there are not adequate places to shelter or beds," Goodband said. "The resources aren't there yet."
Goodband said he also is concerned about a lack of parking near a receiving center in Bellows Falls, especially in the winter. And he contends the plan still does not clearly address how students and their parents would be reunited if a radiological emergency happened during the school day.
"I think that's still confusing in some peoples' minds -- how they're going to get their kids, where they're going to be," Goodband said.
Davis said Goodband's shelter concerns are unfounded in part because hotels and motels in a wide area would be cleared to house "refugees" from the evacuation zone.
"The people who are evacuees are going to be put into those places," Davis said. "Because the government doesn't want the people out on the side of the road."
Goodband wasn't buying it, saying "there are no Holiday Inns in Bellows Falls that I remember."
"If I were to advise (residents) right now, I'd say, "Load up your car. If you have a tent, bring a tent with you,'" Goodband said.
Others shared his concerns.
"As a practical matter, if there's a disaster down at Vermont Yankee, people are not even going to think about this plan," Selectboard member Joe Cook said. "They're just going to get in their cars, and they're going to drive a considerable distance from here and they're going to worry about where they're going to stay when they get there."
Selectboard member Bill Holiday said he does not believe anyone can develop a feasible evacuation plan.
"I'm ready to yield to the weight of the bureaucracy here and sign this thing even though I don't think the Red Cross or Rick or any number of officials from any number of towns can put together a plan that will work in the kind of situations that could arise in the worst-case-scenario disaster," Holiday said.
That sentiment eventually prevailed as Holiday, Cook and Glabach voted to sign the plan "with reservations." Goodband and board member Lewis White voted against the document.
Davis said there is no expectation that the plan is "perfect." Rather, he said, the Selectboard simply is letting state officials know that "this is the plan we're going to use."
He also said local and state officials constantly are working to revise and improve the document.
"We have many meetings with many people many times a year to go over this plan and make it better," Davis said. "Every meeting, something gets better."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.