Feds should repair access road at closed power plant in Rowe

Published: 3/13/2019 9:26:53 AM

For 30 years, the residents of Rowe benefited from the presence of the Yankee Atomic nuclear power plant, its single biggest taxpayer and job provider. Despite its tiny size, this town of about 370 residents could afford first-rate municipal facilities and equipment.

Until the plant was decommissioned and dismantled in 2007, it was a financial blessing.

So, for some, it must feel odd today to experience Yankee Atomic’s lingering impact as a fiscal drain.

The site of one of the nation’s first commercial atomic power plants is now a high-level radioactive waste site, where 16 casks of spent fuel rods sit awaiting the day, perhaps decades away, when the federal government will fulfill its promise to provide a permanent home for the long-lived toxic waste.

The only access to the closed and guarded site is by a dead-end town road, Yankee Road, which is falling into decay. And therein lies Rowe’s problem today.

Town officials are seeking help to fund reconstruction of the aging road estimated to cost $800,000. That’s money town officials say Rowe can’t afford for a road townspeople no longer use.

Selectboard and Finance Committee members are appealing to state and federal lawmakers, including Sen. Edward Markey, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Richard Neal, Gov. Charlie Baker, state Sen. Adam Hinds and state Rep. Paul Mark, among others, to get someone else to pay for the road.

Town officials say the road is mostly traveled by security guards, who protect the radioactive waste. The road must also be maintained to provide access to emergency responders and because some day the casks may need to be removed.

In any other situation, the town could vote to discontinue maintenance or even abandon the road. But that’s not an option for the town.

So, Rowe not only has been forced to become a de facto nuclear waste depository, but also has been left holding the bag for maintenance of an access road it doesn’t use. The Yankee Atomic Co. and federal government pay for maintaining the waste site itself. But why should the town get stuck with an $800,000 bill for the road whose only purpose is to serve the waste site?

If the town pays to replace the road it will have to eat into reserves or borrow — adding to an “already strained budget funded by an aging population” that has other priorities for its tax dollars, things that benefit townspeople like bridge repairs and broadband installation, town officials note.

We see no reason that local taxpayers should be paying for an access road to a site that exists only because the federal government has failed to meet its obligation and promise to store the radioactive waste in a central national depository. This should be the federal government’s responsibility.

We doubt our U.S. senators and Congressman Richard Neal would disagree, and hope they have the clout or ingenuity to find some way to remove this albatross from around Rowe’s neck.

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