BRATTLEBORO -- The Senate Government Operations Committee on Wednesday voted to recommend Entergy be required to pay more than $770,000 to fund an updated evacuation plan as presented by the Red Cross. The Senate Appropriations Committee then approved the plan, but instead of asking for the full payment over two years as recommended by Department of Public Safety staffers, it changed it to a four-year plan.
A lobbyist for Vermont Yankee told the Reformer on Friday that while everyone knew that Red Cross was asking for a $727,000, late last year the House Appropriations Committee approved a $53,000 allocation.
"In the first week of April we saw the governor's proposal and it was a huge surprise," said Gerry Morris. "It went from $53,000 to $770,000."
After spending more than six months reviewing the Red Cross proposal, the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security approved the request, but increased it by nearly $50,000.
Morris said he "had no clue" that EMHS was continuing to review the Red Cross request.
"It was a surprise to not only me, but also to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee," said Morris. "It came out of nowhere."
Appropriations Committee members Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, and Sen. Rich Westman, R-Lamoille, were tasked with reviewing the proposal and came back with the four-year plan. They also recommended that the entire amount be set aside and allocated over the four years whether or not the plant continues to operate.
Sears had no comment on who knew what and when.
In the first year of the plan as approved by the Appropriations Committee, Entergy is required to make a payment of $200,000 to the Red Cross.
"We oppose the $200,000 obligation in fiscal year 2014 and we would ask the committee to stick with the House-passed amount of $53,000," said Morris.
Joe Flynn, the director of EMHS, said the $770,000 number should not have come as a surprise to anyone.
"The House did pass out the budget as recommended in January," said Flynn. "At that time we had recommended about $53,000. However, what I had been telling Appropriations, there would likely be an increase. We would be seeking an adjustment, but we didn't know the exact number. So, they voted on what they had."
Larry Crist, the regional executive director of the Vermont and New Hampshire Valley Red Cross, presented the proposal in August 2012 and discussed it at a Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel in September.
He told VSNAP more than $727,000 was needed to fund Red Cross's role in the plan, which includes finding shelter for up to 6,000 people who live in the emergency preparedness zone around Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which is located in Vernon.
"Entergy has spent the last few days trying to convince senators that the Red Cross request has come as a complete surprise and as such, should not be approved but rather sent to a study committee over the summer and fall," Crist told the Reformer on Friday.
Following Crist's presentation to VSNAP, Flynn and his staff went through the Red Cross' list of needs line by line and concluded Entergy should be required to fork over $344,375 in fiscal year 2014 and $426,743 in fiscal year 2015.
In total, the division recommended Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, pony up $2.4 million for the emergency response plan for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1. That money is distributed to emergency responders in the Vermont towns in the 10-mile emergency preparedness zone around the plant.
Gov. Peter Shumlin's office approved the two-year request and forwarded it to the State House, where Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, the chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee brought it up for review and a vote before forwarding it to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has the final say.
White also said Entergy has known "for a long time this has been going on and they've seen the numbers and knew it was a real possibility the administration would put this in the budget."
"And I sat face to face with Entergy in October," said Flynn. "They were aware of the Red Cross request."
Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange, a member of VSNAP, said Entergy's claim it had no knowledge of the request was disingenuous.
"The suggestion that this is a surprise is preposterous," he said, adding the Red Cross request has been a topic of discussion at several meetings since then.
"Entergy has been religiously faithful in attending all meetings to do with Vermont Yankee," said MacDonald. "I have never attended a meeting where there weren't any Yankee officials. I can't imagine that anybody who runs a nuclear facility would miss a warned meeting taking place several hundred yards from the plant. They always attend. They're the first to arrive and the last to leave."
And in November, Flynn's office received a letter from Michael McKenney, Yankee's emergency planning manager, in which Entergy objected to the Red Cross proposal.
McKenney stated that the approval process wasn't open and systematic, didn't allow for a peer review, and didn't allow for Entergy to "review and validate" the request. Entergy also objected to basing the proposal on "worst case assumptions."
McKenney wrote that some of Red Cross's line items "seem inconsistent with a realistic assessment of what is needed ...."
The letter itemizes several of those items, including staff vehicles and administrative positions.
"ARC's apparent use of (state statutes) as a pathway to provide raises to staffers or to create full time staff positions with vaguely defined position descriptions and seemingly overlapping responsibilities is at the very least questionable and deserves additional scrutiny."
McKenney noted that "ARC's questionable assumptions" resulted in a highly inflated monetary request" and greatly exceeded previous requests.
Rob Williams, spokesman for Yankee, told the Reformer in early April the Red Cross' request for additional funding appeared to have no basis.
"It would be unlike any other state and far exceeds the funding necessary to meet the responsibilities of the Red Cross for radiological emergency planning," said Williams.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.