Windham County seeks $2.2 million in state aid to recover from Yankee closing

The House Committees on Commerce and Economic Development and Natural Resources and Energy hear testimony on Monday from a range of local leaders and residents on how the region should proceed after Vermont Yankee closes its doors. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

The House Committees on Commerce and Economic Development and Natural Resources and Energy hear testimony on Monday from a range of local leaders and residents on how the region should proceed after Vermont Yankee closes its doors. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

VERNON — Windham County leaders want Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Vermont Legislature to inject about $2.2 million in state stimulus dollars into the regional economy to mitigate the impact of Vermont Yankee’s upcoming closure.

The call for help came Monday at a joint hearing of the House Committees on Commerce and Natural Resources and Energy. Throughout the day, roughly 100 local residents and officials filed in and out of Vernon Elementary School, just across the street from the 41-year-old nuclear plant.

Entergy plans to close the plant at the end of 2014, eliminating the lion’s share of the plant’s 620 jobs, which pay an average of about $100,000 annually.

“The loss of these jobs and commensurate buying power in the region, as well as the contracting and purchasing Vermont Yankee does with area businesses, will have a significant impact on our already challenged economy,” Patricia Moulton Powden, director of Workforce Development for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., told legislators. “We need the Legislature, administration and others to see it is time to invest in the Windham County economy.”

Vermont Yankee is the largest employer in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s home county. While the plant provides about 2 percent of the jobs in the region, it accounts for roughly 5 percent of wages. This is one of the key findings of the Windham County Post-VY Economic Mitigation and Growth Report, which is guiding the region’s response to Vermont Yankee’s closure.

The report projects that the plant’s closure will result in the loss of about 400 outside jobs that rely on the spending of Vermont Yankee and its employees. Due to the loss of discretionary spending, the region’s $660 million in retail sales are expected to fall by $26 million. The authors of the report — all local business and development leaders — expect the plant’s closure to result in a high level of vacant homes and a major decline in real estate values. If the regional vacancy rate hits 3 percent, they predict a reduction in home values of about 15 percent.

Others joined Powden, telling legislators the plant’s closing would take a toll on an already hampered regional economy.

“Wages have been stagnant here since the 1970s,” said Laura Sibilia, director of the Southeast Vermont Economic Development Strategy. She showed lawmakers an analysis that indicated less than half of personal income in the county comes from wages.

Powden and Sibilia’s organizations and the Windham Regional Commission, which is the county’s planning commission, say the region needs economic help now more than ever. The $2.2 million they want from the state would pay for positions such as a director of redevelopment and a marketing coordinator for Windham and Bennington counties. The groups want $300,000 for redevelopment studies, such as a market assessment, and $150,000 for a business start-up fund.

Chris Campany (right), director of the Windham Regional Commission, and Commissioner Tom Buchanan tell legislators that Windham County needs economic help to cushion the blow of Vermont Yankee's closure. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Chris Campany (right), director of the Windham Regional Commission, and Commissioner Tom Buchanan tell legislators that Windham County needs economic help to cushion the blow of Vermont Yankee’s closure. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Chris Campany, the director of the Windham Regional Commission, told lawmakers: “What we’re trying to do is grade the steepness of the cliff so that people are able to stay here longer with their families, find new jobs, open new businesses and mitigate the real estate impact, which would mitigate grand list issues.”

The Windham Regional Commission wants more than $200,000 to better participate in the regulatory process, advocate for regional interests and conduct research, among other initiatives.

“We have had no dedicated source of funds for our work related to Vermont Yankee, and we cannot and should not have to continue to rely on dedicated volunteers to support this very important ongoing effort,” Campany said.

Campany also called on the governor to create “a transparent deliberative body” to oversee the decommissioning process for the state, and he wants his commission to have a seat on it.

Sharing the wealth

Patty O’Donnell, chair of the Vernon Selectboard, told lawmakers that when the state was in financial trouble in the 1970s, the late Vernon Rep. Erma Puffer offered to share local revenues from Vermont Yankee with the state.

As O’Donnell tells the story, Puffer catalyzed the creation of the state generation tax that is currently imposed on Vermont Yankee.

“For 40 years, because of this town, the state of Vermont has remained strong,” O’Donnell said. “You have reaped the benefit of (millions and millions) of tax dollars because of the decision that the people from this town have made. Now we need your help.”

Vermont Yankee does not pay a statewide property tax, but it pays about $12 million annually in a state generation tax, which legislators are eager to replace with a new levy.

The tax impact on the tiny town of Vernon will be significant. This year, Vermont Yankee is responsible for $1.3 million in municipal taxes, or about half of the town’s total tax receipts, according to the Windham Regional Commission. Exactly how Vermont Yankee’s closure will affect this arrangement with the town is yet to be determined.

Since Vermont Yankee was taken off the grand list, the town treasurer’s office says Vernon is only responsible for paying 75 percent of its statewide education tax rate. O’Donnell told legislators the town would like to maintain a cushion of at least this size.

Later in the evening, Vernon residents voiced similar sentiments.

Paul Miller is a longtime Vernon resident and a former Vernon lister.

“They always said Vermont Yankee was too big for Vernon, so the taxes went up to Montpelier. Now that the plant is going to be devalued because of its closing is it small enough so these taxes would be Vernon’s?” he asked the lawmakers. “That would solve a lot of Vernon’s problems. … I’d like to see a lot higher percentage of this tax stay in Vernon.”

Martin Langeveld, a Vernon resident, told the legislators that they should feel responsible for mitigating the impact of Vermont Yankee’s closure.

“In this situation, the governor and the Legislature did the exact opposite of what you usually do,” he said. “Instead of trying to preserve jobs, instead of trying to attract and support a large employer, they actively sought to close one down. That is unique. That is what makes this one different.

“I suggest you need to consider what the Legislature’s responsibility is now that it has gained that objective it sought for so long,” Langeveld said. “In this case, you have a special responsibility to permit a mitigation effort to go forward and to generously fund that mitigation effort.”

Norma Manning has four children and her husband, Wayne, works for Vermont Yankee. She doesn’t know how she can afford to continue to live in Vernon.

“How can we stay?” Manning asked the legislators. “I have 10 years left to pay on my house, and my husband is six years from retirement. How do we stay? Our student loans are based on an income that we will not be able to continue paying … because that type of employment is not available here … that’s what I’m looking for — a way to stay.”

‘The game is over’

O’Donnell and other local leaders urged lawmakers to put their differences with Entergy aside.

“Entergy has always been an extremely wonderful company for us to deal with — always,” O’Donnell said, adding that the town has litigated with other large entities. “It’s time to put politics aside. The game is over. I’m done fighting. I’ve had it. I want to live in a community, a county and a state where everyone gets along.”

In recent years, Entergy and the state have become entangled in a number of lawsuits, ranging from a generation tax hike to whether the Legislature has the authority to close the plant.

Campany urged the state and Entergy to work together, saying that “continuing litigation further burdens each participant.”

These statements come as the Public Service Board considers whether to relicense the plant until the end of 2014.

Rep. Tony Klein, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, told those in attendance Monday that his committee would not interfere in the decommissioning process, which is controlled by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He said it is time for the state and Entergy to work together.

“The bottom line, as you all know, is we don’t have a say,” Klein said. “I’m not entertaining doing any work on impacting the decommissioning process. We’ve been down that road before. The game is over, and I agree the politics need to go away on this. … The plant is going away. We need to find the best way forward.”

Reps. Tony Klein, chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, left, and Bill Botzow, chair of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, listen to testimony from Windham County leaders at a joint hearing held in Vernon on Vermont Yankee's closure. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Reps. Tony Klein, chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, left, and Bill Botzow, chair of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, listen to testimony from Windham County leaders at a joint hearing held in Vernon on Vermont Yankee’s closure. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Andrew Stein

Comments

  1. Sandra Bettis :

    it makes one wonder what they would’ve asked for if vy had blown up. oops – guess we wouldn’t have had to worry about that.

  2. Pete Novick :

    Windham County doesn’t get it. Ask Rick Cohen, owner of C&S Wholesale Grocers, who tried to get permission to build, at company expense, a dedicated north-bound on-ramp to Interstate 91 from company property which the company determined was needed to expand their Brattleboro facility. The good people of Brattleboro kept the company on a Yo-Yo for a couple of years after which C&S expanded into a new facility in Hatfield, MA creating in the process 400 new jobs. Those jobs could have been right here in Windham County along with the added tax revenue. But no…

    Or ask Wal-Mart, which wanted to build and open a store in Brattleboro. Once again, the good people of Brattleboro turned up their noses. Imagine – a Wal-Mart on beautiful Putney Road! So, the Wal-Mart Super Center sits in Hindsdale where yesterday I purchased 2 55 gallon Rubbermaid containers I use to store shorter pieces of wood for the wood stove. $11.99 each and no sales tax. I could have just as easily paid $17.99 in Brattleboro.

    Meanwhile, the big box store which used to house a Home Depot sits vacant…for another year.

    Want a good proxy for the economic health of a community? Count up the number of commercial zoning permits issued in the last 3-5 years. Then count the number of new jobs created as new businesses open.

    AT&T Mobility had a retail operation in the Hannaford plaza until a couple of years ago, when they closed it and consolidated in Keene and Northampton because there was not enough traffic to justify keeping it open.

    Did you know that the populations of Keene and Brattleboro were about the same in 1950?

    Today, the population of Keene (23,000) is more than twice that of Brattleboro (12,000).

    Oh yeah – you can find a decent job in Keene but for Brattleboro residents, the opportunity cost, a 40 to 50 mile commute each workday is a huge disincentive.

    Metropolitan regions are the principal engines of growth in economies. You either get with the program, or…you stay in Brattleboro, frozen in time.

    • Sandra Bettis :

      i guess that, if you want to live in a metropolis, that is where you should live. the quality of life in vt is the reason that most of us live here – and that doesn’t include vy or walmart.

    • Rob Coates :

      If I were worried about the health and proliferation of Walmart and AT & T I would move to New Jersey.

    • Jim Barrett :

      Thank you Pete for your thoughts on this anti everything Vermont and it is happening all over the state. The anti business, anti jobs crowd has taken over while good and well intentioned Vermonters sit by the fireside.

      • Sandra Bettis :

        we aren’t anti job unless the jobs are in the nature of killing people (the f35) or wrecking the environment (vt yankee and fracking). guantanamo has jobs – maybe you’d like them to move here.

  3. Wayne Andrews :

    Good points Pete. Indicative of most of Vermont

  4. Wendy wilton :

    VY got the message from the state of VT when Senate Pro Tempore Peter Welch led the charge in 2006 to make the state legislature a decisionmaker in the plant’s licensing. Entergy began its legal strategy-and won. What did Entergy get from the legal battle? A decision by the US Supreme Court that a state cannot interfere with licensing of a nuclear plant, while that case cost Vermonters millions for Bill Sorrell to lose, at the urging of Peter Shumlin, Tony Klein and the rest of the leadership.i

    VY opponents were too politically hide-bound to think through this outcome and the negative impacts of their actions on Vermonters. Well, now we’re here with a soon to be closed nuke plant, a hurting regional economy in Windham, and the town of Vernon in dire straits. The politics of Vermont have become form over substance and unkind to our people in so many ways.

    All of this is of our own doing. Vermont strong? We’ll see how Governor Shumlin and the legislature treats the town of Vernon.

    • Wendy, are you saying that Gov Shumlin and his merry band of men & women are a “Ready, Fire, Aim” crowd, when you say:

      “VY opponents were too politically hide-bound to think through this outcome and the negative impacts of their actions on Vermonters.” ?

      • Wendy wilton :

        Yep.

    • Bob Stannard :

      A couple of facts:

      1. the case never made it to the US Supreme Court.

      2. States do have a say over nuclear power regarding just about everything except radioactive material and safety.

      3. Prior to Shumlin calling for a Senate vote, then Gov. Jim Douglas had been calling for a vote for many months. Once it was learned that Entergy had lied to the PSB, Gov. Douglas backed off on his call for a vote, because he knew that even smart guys like Sen. Randy Brock would vote against Entergy.

      4. Entergy sued Vermont; not the other way around. Bill Sorrell had no choice but to defend Vermont. That’s his job.

      5. A.G. Bill Sorrell won a partial decision in which Vermont now does not have to pay Entergy’s legal fees.

      6. “All of this is our own doing”? Not exactly. Entergy could have negotiated a deal with Vermont’s utilities. Instead, they opted to go out to the open market. Big mistake as it turns out, because the market is very low for the unforeseeable future. In the end it was this decision that closed VY. Don’t take my word for it. Ask them.

  5. Denise Rumrill :

    Thanks, Pete, for saying in plain terms what I’ve been saying for many years. Brattleboro’s desire to slam the door on every large employer that it deems not living up to its expectations of what the “local flavor” should be has set our region up for failure. When the plant closes, my job there is going away as well. I have no idea how I’m going to be able to stay in this area where I’ve grown up and lived for the past 58 years. I don’t make anywhere near the “average” salary quoted in this article, but it’s still a more generous salary than any other local employer would be able to pay me. So now my life will be turned upside down at a time in my life when I should be looking forward to things calming down… and still the antis are gloating about their “victory” and the State wants Entergy to pay more to offset the huge economic impact that the closing is going to have on the region. Like I’ve said before, it’s like dealing with spoiled children.

  6. Sandra Bettis :

    i agree with the ‘spoiled children’ comment but i’d say it is coming from the other side of the fence as evidenced by this article and the comments.

  7. Denise Rumrill :

    Well, Sandra, your previous comment “i guess that, if you want to live in a metropolis, that is where you should live. the quality of life in vt is the reason that most of us live here – and that doesn’t include vy or walmart” … I’ve lived here since I was 2 years old. I was here before VY was built and had planned on being here after it eventually shut down. But as far as my quality of life not including VY or WalMart… you speak as if you know what all Vermonters want and needand think. I’m a Vermonter and I definitely don’t agree with you. And I am not fond of having others who don’t represent my ideas and values proporting to “speak” for all Vermonters. There are many of us who are not on the same page as you.

    • Sandra Bettis :

      are you saying that you support these corporations that are ruining our state? if so, how can you call yourself a vermonter?

      • Carl Werth :

        Only people who agree with Sandra Bettis are allowed to call themselves “Vermonters”?

  8. Pete Novick :

    Here are the State of Vermont purposes and objectives for the 11 regional planning commissions in our state:

    • Promote economic development, increasing jobs and income
    • Preserve the natural beauty of Vermont
    • Obtain and maintain efficiency in government expenditure
    • Safeguard and extend local autonomy in planning and development decisions

    You can read more about this on the Windham Regional Commission website here:

    http://windhamregional.org/about

    Please note that, “promote economic development, increasing jobs and income,” is listed first, normally the superordinate (higher rank or status) position in English usage. One could argue that may or may not be true, as Thomas Jefferson closed out the first part of the Declaration of Independence with: “… we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

    Jefferson qualified Honor with the adjective ‘sacred’ and perhaps one could argue he meant that honor deserved the superordinate position, a noble thought in the twilight of the Enlightenment, but I digress…

    But here in the economic twilight of Vermont we are treated to the spectacle of the Windham Regional Commission beseeching state legislators – hand out, palm up- asking for…more? A Dickensian moment for sure.

    We need another economic development study for Windham County like we need another Tropical Storm Irene.

    Enough!

    The private sector is America’s job creator. The WRC either needs to figure that out and how to get good companies to move here…or go grow organic vegetables – at less than minimum wage.

    If the median wage in Vermont were to magically increase 30% tomorrow, guess what? The state needs less money for home heating assistance, less money for Medicaid, less money for tax rebates, less money for school lunches…I think you get the picture.

    Shame on us. A state with so much talent, and so little to show for it.

    Yesterday I saw a familiar sight here – something you almost never see elsewhere – a working aged man hitch hiking on Route 30.

  9. Wayne Andrews :

    I agree wholely with what Pete is saying. Vermont is being led by a few wishing the State to be their own utopic “Eden” and be damn with the consequences.
    WRC only cares about more grant money with palms turned skyward. This is why WRC doesn’t disagree with the current administration for fear of getting no funds for next year. The WRC are fence riders and don’t want to upset the applecart.
    Who is responsible? Well…… all of us old Vermonters selling off our land years ago, not getting involved in State politics and not voicing our opinions more often.

    • John Greenberg :

      Wayne:

      You write: “This is why WRC doesn’t disagree with the current administration…” About what? What SHOULD they disagree with?

      • John, on a different subject but something I know will be of great interest and unlikely comfort to you.

        Did you notice that the Washington Post just gave President Obama four Pinocchio’s for his now more than ever famous statements regarding American’s ability to keep their health insurance company and doctors under Obamacare if they want to, guaranteed, period?

        Or what about the latest NBC News Poll showing President Obama’s job approval rating dropping to an incredible 42%?

        Would you call these two news organizations just Tea Party related Obama haters to be reviled or are they on to something?

        • John Greenberg :

          “Would you call these two news organizations just Tea Party related Obama haters to be reviled or are they on to something?”

          Neither.

        • Bob Stannard :

          Ah, we’re back to hating Obama again. Perhaps it would be great interest and unlikely comfort to you, Peter, to recall that at this stage in his presidency, Pres. G.W. Bush was at 37%; a record low.

          For the record, I don’t think any of that matters one hoot, but since you apparently do…well, I just thought I’d be helpful.

          • John and Bob, your skills as quick subject artists are stunning.You make Jay Carney look like a rank amateur in this regard.

            The issue here is that Obama has been called out, labeled, identified and painted as a liar by the traditionally liberal Washington Post with its four Pinocchio rating for his now famous: “If you like your health insurer, if you like your doctor, you can keep them, guaranteed, period”. Ouch!

            Bob, as for your comment that any of this doesn’t matter a hoot, well in comparison to what’s coming to Americans in the form of health insurance cost increases and disruption of medical services, you’re probably correct. The worse is still in front of the American people and for President Obama, and the cratering of the exchanges don’t amount to a hoot.

            And, Remember these gems from #s 41, 42 and Shummy:

            “Read my lips, no new taxes.” and “I didn’t have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” and “It’s a Nothing Burger”.

            Now we have a new addition to this memorable list by # 44.

            Bob and John, keep bailing as there is no end to the rising water generated by President Obama’s words and actions. You can’t make this stuff up, its unbelievable.

          • Bob Stannard :

            No Peter, you’re trying to make Obama’s statement an issue. There’s a difference. The issue here is support for southeastern Vermont. You were the one who diverted into your continued anti-Obama diatribe. All I tried to do was to point out that at the same point in Bush’s presidency his numbers were lower.

  10. Mime Slaters :

    seriously? they knew this was coming for a very long time. they should have been planning for it. the rest of the state does not have to suffer for their lack of planning. #wasteoftime

    • Bob Stannard :

      Roughly 40 years to be exact.

  11. Sandra Bettis :

    carl – no, only people who can see past the ends of their noses and care about the future of our state. :)

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