Planning for a post-VY economy
BRATTLEBORO -- Members of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, General and Military Affairs were in Brattleboro Friday to collect testimony on what the region will need to survive the eventual closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.
Whether the plant closes in one year, or in 20, local business leaders argued Friday that Brattleboro, and all of Windham County, is likely to suffer a major economic hit, and it made sense to begin preparing now to help soften the blow.
The Senate committee held a similar hearing last year, and returned again last week to hear from Windham County residents about their concerns and ideas on surviving in a post-VY economy.
"There will be a dramatic effect," said Stephan Morse, chairman of the Post-Vermont Yankee Task Force, a subcommittee of the Southeast Vermont Economic Development Strategy Planning Group. "Vermont Yankee is Windham County's largest employer and when it closes there will be a huge fallout."
Senate Committee Chairman Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex/Orleans, was joined by fellow members Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, and Bill Doyle, R-Washington.
"Too often Windham County gets the feeling that it is being ignored in Montpelier," Galbraith said. "Closing Vermont Yankee will have an impact and it needs to be addressed."
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, who is not a member of the Economic Development Committee, also gathered testimony from the witnesses at the meeting, which was held at the Vermont Agricultural Business Education Center.
The hearing, and the eventual aid provided by the Legislature, coincides with the work done by the Southeast Vermont Economic Development Strategy Planning Group, which is working to help Windham County prepare for the job losses and reductions in retail sales and contributions to local nonprofit and other economic factors.
The Post-Vermont Yankee Task Force issued a report this month on the impact of the plant's closing on the region.
Morse, a former Vermont House Speaker, said that while the plant's closing will lead to job losses and drops in tax revenue, the impacts will extend into the real estate market and retail sales, and the closing will also diminish the pool of human capital that fuels non-profit groups across the county.
When the plant closes, Windham County will lose 2 percent of its jobs and 5 percent of its wages due to the high-paying positions at Yankee, according to Morse.
There will be about $26 million lost in retail sales, and an additional 1,000 related jobs that will disappear, he said.
Galbraith called for the hearing last year during his first days in the Legislature, he said Friday.
Lawmakers, in return, earmarked $57,000 to help SeVEDS conduct its research, and Galbraith returned with his fellow legislators last week to continue hearing from local residents, and begin setting the stage for more possible state funding to help weather the eventual plant closing.
Rep. Oliver Olsen, R-Jamaica, has introduced an amendment to a tax bill this year that would direct about $1.5 million from Vermont Yankee tax payments directly toward Windham County for planning and economic development.
Some of the testimony Friday seemed to be offered to the legislators as suggestions on how that money should be apportioned if Olsen's amendment is approved.
Along with Brattleboro officials, the committee members also heard from representatives from Newfane, Guilford and Rockingham.
Guilford Selectboard member Anne Rider asked the committee not to forget the smaller, rural communities that surround Brattleboro.
And Marlboro College President Ellen McCulloch-Lovell also made a pitch to include area schools in the conversation as the region prepares, and moves into, a post-VY world.
Along with the testimony the committee was hearing concerning Vermont Yankee, the members also came to southeastern Vermont to investigate the ongoing recovery from the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene.
Two Flat Street business owners talked about the challenges of filling out paperwork and meeting deadlines, even as they were putting all of their efforts into getting their businesses back open.
And business owners and officials from Newfane said their region still looks like a disaster area, and will need a concentrated and sustained effort to rebuild and lure tourists and visitors back.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.
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