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Jobs a top concern

Effects to be felt on families, economy with Vt. Yankee switching off

VERNON, Vt. — The parking lot at Nesbitt’s Portside Tavern was full and overflowing onto Governor Hunt Road just down the road from Vermont Yankee’s nuclear power plant, full of workers who had been told hours earlier their well-paying jobs would disappear next year.

While the voices inside sounded boisterous and good-humored, reporters were not welcome.

“They’re not making any comment,” Cameron Nesbitt, owner of the popular pub said preemptively, a sure sign that emotions were raw. A sign “We Support Vermont Yankee” was posted outside the restaurant and bar.

Two miles away, Terrie Newell of Hinsdale, N.H., stood by the side of the road holding a poster with only a large, hand-drawn smile.

Newell said when she got off work at Putney Food Co-op, she drove down to Route 142 in Vernon as a one-woman celebration. Once word of Entergy’s decision to close Vermont Yankee next year reached the public, there was “a lot of celebrating” in the co-op, she said.

Out on the road near Yankee, she was greeted with an occasional honk of support.

Newell said the radioactive tritium leak in 2010 at Vermont Yankee was the beginning of the end for her.

“They just lied about everything; they lied about the tritium,” she said. “If you can’t trust them, they should be shut down. They signed an agreement to agree with the state’s oversight.”

“Today, I just like smiling,” said Newell, saying she hoped her sign was “not overly offensive.”

In Hinsdale, which is located directly across the Connecticut River from Vermont Yankee, many of her neighbors work at Yankee, she said.

In downtown Brattleboro Tuesday afternoon, news of the Entergy announcement was still filtering throughout the community.

For Avi Ovadia, Brattleboro’s downtown hot dog cart man, the news about Yankee was mixed with cheers and economic worries.

Yankee employees pump money into area restaurants and motels, he said.

Yet, he said, the news “made a lot of people happy.”

Ovadia said his business has been hard hit since the Brooks House fire in April 2011, and Yankee’s closing will be another blow to the local economy.

David Moon, a biology and chemistry teacher at the independent Putney School, was picking up bagels at a downtown bagel shop. He said he was pleased with the news that Entergy had pulled the plug on Vermont Yankee.

Moon said he attended a public hearing in 2010 about the now infamous tritium leak at the Vermont Yankee plant, and he said as a scientist he was disappointed at the lack of information from Entergy officials about the leaking pipes.

“At its current age, I think it’s gotten really, really old,” Moon said.

Moon said he had been worried that Entergy might keep Yankee open “until it breaks, I’m glad they decided to decommission.”

Moon said he had hoped nuclear companies would look at thorium reactors, which he said would not have the dangerous waste that nuclear reactors produce.

People interviewed in downtown Brattleboro who had been closely following Yankee issues said they weren’t surprised by the fact that Yankee was losing money for Entergy, but they said they were surprised at the timing of the decision.

Afterall, Entergy had just won a big, undoubtedly costly, legal victory over the state of Vermont two weeks earlier, said Jerry Goldberg, executive director of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce.

Goldberg said replacing Entergy as corporate neighbor and employer of about 630 people in Windham County would be extremely difficult if not impossible.

“The effect on the general economy will be profound,” he said.

The “very good paying jobs,” — averaging $100,000 a year by some accounts — are not that common in Windham County, he said.

Entergy Nuclear also played an important role in the nonprofit world, making contributions close to $500,000 annually to regional organizations.

Goldberg said that Entergy’s well-educated employees added significantly to the educational and cultural life of the region.

For the group that has been studying the eventual reality of life after Vermont Yankee, the reaction was definitely worried.

“We are deeply concerned about the loss of over 650 highly paid jobs and the impacts that will have on the lives of the VY employee families. We are equally concerned about the overall impact to the regional economy and the impact to the many contractors and other businesses that do business with VY,” said Stephan Morse and John Meyer, the leadership of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies.

“The announcement that Entergy will close Vermont Yankee in 2014 significantly exacerbates the economic challenges facing southeastern Vermont. This adds even more urgency to our need to act to implement existing and developing strategies.”

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