2007 Year in Review [1]

Posted

Saturday, December 29
BRATTLEBORO - Nukes, nudes and turmoil at the Municipal Center. In many ways, 2007 seemed like a continuation of 2006, when all three of these issues topped the news of Windham County and southwestern New Hampshire.

If there was a difference, it was that Vermont Yankee had its worst year in recent memory, nudity in Brattleboro went from being a joke to a crisis and the municipal turmoil in Brattleboro was about personnel and police tactics, rather than finances.

Let's look back at these stories in more detail.

VERMONT YANKEE: When the year began, it looked like the effort to extend the nuclear plant's operating license to 2032 was more or less a formality. By year's end, it was no longer so certain.

The first sign of trouble came on Jan. 23, when a stuck safety valve prompted a six-hour shutdown.

The relicencing hearings became more contentious. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing at the Latchis on Jan. 31 turned embarrassing when the presenters used slides that all read "Pilgrim" instead of "Vermont Yankee." It reinforced the view of many that the process was a charade and wasn't being taken seriously.

The state Environmental Court held a series of hearings in June and July on the plant's application for a water discharge permit. Entergy sought to increase the temperature of the water it discharged into the Connecticut River, a move that environmental groups said would harm salmon and shad restoration efforts.

Then came August. At the beginning of the month, the NRC announced it would delay the license renewal application for two months because of requests for additional information on 16 equipment systems.

All through the month, Entergy and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers squabbled over a new contract. It was eventually ratified on Aug. 24.

On Aug. 20, David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, questioned why Vermont Yankee did not receive additional scrutiny from the NRC after getting approval for a 20 percent power uprate in 2006.

Lochbaum's concerns were borne out the next day when a section of the plant's cooling tower collapsed. The plant was forced to operate at reduced power for several days. The photos of water gushing out over a pile of rotted wood and twisted metal became a symbol of what opponents had been saying for years - Vermont Yankee is not safe to run for an additional 20 years.

That sentiment was reinforced on Aug. 30, when a stuck steam valve prompted an emergency shutdown. The mishap occurred during an inspection of the valves. The plant remained closed until Sept. 14.

After two major incidents in 10 days, some Vermont Yankee workers began to raise concerns about plant safety. Lawmakers suddenly started paying attention to what was happening in Vernon. And the whole debate over the plant's future began to shift.

Statewide opposition to Vermont Yankee grew. At a series of energy policy forums held around the state (but not in Windham County), participants came out against renewing the plant's license. The Vermont Congressional delegation put its muscle behind legislation calling for an independent safety assessment of Vermont Yankee. Gov. James Douglas balked at first, but eventually threw his support behind the idea in November.

On Nov. 5, Entergy announced that it wanted to spin off Vermont Yankee and five other nonregulated nuclear plants it owns into a new holding company. The move is intended to consolidate debt and increase the amount of borrowing the new company could obtain.

At year's end, the debate shifted yet again after a report found that Entergy did not have enough money in its decommissioning fund to shut down Vermont Yankee in 2012, and that the company is contemplating mothballing the plant for up to 60 years before dismantling it.

MUNICIPAL TURMOIL: On Jan. 10, a draft report filed by the Federal Transportation Agency found that the multimodal project - the town parking garage and the Union Station upgrade - never complied with federal regulations and that the town made serious mistakes in managing the $5 million project.

While a state auditor's report released in February concluded there was no fraud associated with the project, all eyes were on Town Manager Jerry Remillard, who had been out since December 2006 on medical leave.

On Feb. 11, the Selectboard held a noontime emergency meeting, warned on just 15 minutes notice, to vote to order Remillard to turn in his town-issued laptop computer.

On Feb. 28, the Selectboard voted 4-1 to give Chairman Stephen Steidle the authority to offer Remillard a separation agreement. Remillard accepted it the next day. He received a severance package of $75,000, to be paid over a five-year period. The decision ended a 36-year career with the town.

Assistant Town Manager Barbara Sondag became the acting Town Manager and was given a one-year contract later in the year.

The decision to give Remillard a severance package just days before the annual town meeting angered some in town. When Audrey Garfield became the new Selectboard chairwoman after Town Meeting, one of her first acts was to try find a way for the town to get out of paying the severance. A proposal to set up a fund to collect private donations went over with a thud.

There were other departures too. Fire Chief David Emery announced on Feb. 20 that he was retiring after 37 years with the department. Emery, 56, cited health concerns and a desire to change careers for his decision. After stepping down on June 29, he began work as a deputy with the Windham County Sheriff's Department. Assistant Fire Chief Mike Bucossi was chosen in June as Emery's successor.

And Planning Director Jim Mullen also decided to leave, taking the post of municipal manager in Rockingham.

THE LATEST NUDES: After last summer's random nudity in the Harmony Lot attracted worldwide attention, the Brattleboro Selectboard were pressured to pass an ordinance banning nudity in the downtown area.

The board resisted, figuring the cold weather would keep people's clothes on. But when warmer weather returned in May, so did the nudists. But the town discovered that unless a person was engaged in lewd behavior, it was perfectly legal to be naked in downtown Brattleboro.

The first sign that the joke had gone on long enough came on May 16, when Adhi Palar, 20, was arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious behavior after being caught dancing naked in the Harmony Lot. Palar, who was part of the original group of Harmony nudists in the summer of 2006, accepted a plea deal and got a one-year deferred sentence.

On July 6, an elderly Arizona man decided to come to Brattleboro for Gallery Walk clad in nothing more than a fanny pack. This proved to be the final straw for many. Three days later, the Selectboard began debate on an emergency ordinance to ban public nudity and the board approved the measure on a 3-2 vote on July 17. Now, public nudity was banned on the Route 5 and 9 corridors and within 250 feet of schools or churches. Violators would be fined $100.

An attempt to make the nudity ban permanent failed on Aug. 27, despite the board receiving 11,000 signatures supporting a ban. When the temporary measure lapsed, two women from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals decided to take advantage by staging the first-ever totally nude "Bare Skin, Don't Wear Skin" protest in Pliny Park on Oct. 4.

Finally, on Dec. 4, the Selectboard voted to adopt a permanent version of the emergency ordinance it approved in July.

POLICE PROBLEMS: It seemed like just another Brattleboro protest.

On July 23, a group of local activists planted flowers and a sapling at the site of a proposed truck stop at the corner of Black Mountain and Putney roads.

Jonathan "Slug" Crowell and Samantha Kilmurray decided to take the anti-sprawl protest a step further by occupying the site overnight. The next morning, a group of police officers showed up and ordered Crowell and Kilmurray to leave. The two, who were chained to a concrete-filled barrel, refused. Police then used Tasers to subdue the pair and arrested them for trespassing.

The protest set into motion a series of events that culminated in the firing of Police Chief John Martin.

First, it was learned that Brattleboro Police had used a Taser to subdue a disorderly patient at the Brattleboro Retreat on July 3. Then, it was learned that Martin was out of the area when the incident took place.

On July 27, the Selectboard ordered the police not to use Tasers until the town had a chance to review its use of force policy.

The police said its use of Tasers was justified. Many in town disagreed.

The Selectboard lifted its Taser ban on Aug. 6, but four days later, the Vermont Attorney General's office announced it was doing a statewide review of the use of less-than-lethal force by police departments, and cited the Brattleboro incidents as the reason why.

Martin put himself on administrative leave on Aug. 29 after the town received an independent consultant's report on the police department.

Capt. Eugene Wrinn was named acting police chief. The report, released to the public in September, said the department suffered from poor morale and recommended that both Martin and patrol supervisor Capt. Steve Rowell be reassigned or dismissed from their jobs.

Martin sought to be reinstated on October, but was rebuffed by the Selectboard and suspended without pay. Sondag recommended that Martin be fired, and the Selectboard voted 3-2 on Oct. 30 to do just that. Martin later filed a lawsuit against the town in U.S. District Court, challenging the board's decision.

A new use of force policy was adopted by police, stating that Taser use was acceptable if a subject was resisting arrest and all other measures were exhausted. At year's end, the Selectboard was still debating adoption of the policy.


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