Tribe wants say in Vermont Yankee sale

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VERNON — A Native American tribe is seeking a role in the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee, citing the importance of the land that hosts the shut-down nuclear plant.

The Windham County-based Elnu Abenaki Tribe has filed a motion to intervene in the state Public Service Board's review of the plant's purchase by NorthStar Group Services, a New York-based decommissioning company.

Rich Holschuh, a Brattleboro resident and Native American activist who filed the motion on behalf of the tribe, said it's an attempt to better understand NorthStar's plans.

"This is not a combative move," Holschuh said. "This is an effort to raise awareness and say, 'We're here, and we care.'"

Vermont Yankee owner Entergy, which stopped producing power at the Vernon plant in December 2014, wants to sell the plant to NorthStar by the end of 2018. NorthStar has promised to clean up the site by the end of 2030, decades earlier than Entergy had planned.

The deal could bring economic and environmental benefits to the area, but it also has raised questions about NorthStar's expertise and financial wherewithal. Those are issues that will be explored as the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Vermont Public Service Board review the proposed sale.

Eight entities - representing the public, private and nonprofit sectors - filed requests to intervene in the Public Service Board process by the March 1 deadline. Intervention does not necessarily signal opposition, but rather a desire to become a formal party to the state's review.

The Abenaki motion was filed six days after the state's deadline. It's not yet clear whether that will affect the Public Service Board's decision to accept or reject the tribe's request.

Holschuh said he learned about the deadline - and the ramifications of the Public Service Board's review - after reading media reports last week. He consulted with the tribe and decided to file a motion for intervention.

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"It doesn't hurt to try," he said. "If you don't say anything, nobody knows you exist. Nobody knows you care."

Holschuh has Native American heritage and is a member of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. Last year, he was involved in local and statewide efforts to observe Indigenous People's Day in lieu of Columbus Day.

Holschuh is not a member of the Elnu Abenaki, but he said he's serving as a liaison to the tribe in this matter.

The motion for intervention says the tribe - which has been officially recognized by the state - maintains "vested interests in public proceedings within traditional homelands under federal law."

The "area of effect" of the Vermont Yankee project "lies directly upon historically documented and culturally significant homelands," the tribe contends.

The Great Bend area of the Connecticut River, which Holschuh said includes Vermont Yankee and the Vernon hydroelectric dam, is "highly sensitive for burials, settlement and activity sites and remains a contemporaneous, culturally significant ceremonial site," the motion says.

Holschuh said the tribal importance of the area is not a matter of speculation, though he acknowledged that it's "hard to know exactly what's on the site until it is seen or discovered." He said there were burial sites uncovered during construction of the nearby hydroelectric dam, and the area was used for Native American fishing and settlement.

"One of the best-documented Abenaki village sites is right over the (New Hampshire) border in Hinsdale," Holschuh said. "The plant looks right at it."

At this point, Holschuh said the tribe isn't asking for a certain type of site restoration or reuse at Vermont Yankee. "There is no agenda," he said. "There is simply a curiosity to know more."

Mike Faher reports for the Reformer, VTDigger, and The Commons. He can be contacted at mfaher@vtdigger.org.


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