Elnu Abenaki petition for Vermont Yankee intervenor status

  • The containment building and the turbine building of the now Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Vt. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Rutland Herald
Published: 3/15/2017 5:06:56 PM

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — The Elnu Abenaki tribe has filed for intervenor status with the Public Service Board over the proposed sale, decommissioning and cleanup of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon.

A spokesman for the Elnu, which are based in the southeastern part of the state, said  the Vermont Yankee site was of cultural significance to the Abenaki. He said significant archaeological Abenaki sites are nearby, near the Vernon hydroelectric dam, which is owned by TransCanada, as well as in neighboring Hinsdale, N.H.

Rich Holschuh, a member of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, said he filed the petition with the state so the tribe could be informed about the decommissioning and eventual cleanup of the Vernon site.

“This is not a move to be obstructionist or anything,” he said. “It’s to maintain a voice or presence. If nothing is ever said, you are dropped from any kind of consideration.”

Holschuh said the tribe is concerned about site restoration and remediation.

“We don’t know what the plans are. This is going to be a very long process,” he said.

Holschuh, who himself is of the Micmac tribe, is the Elnu Abenaki’s liaison on several government matters. He said he was already working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the relicensing of Connecticut River hydro dams in Vernon, Bellows Falls and Wilder.

The hydro dams are in the process of being sold to ArcLight, a Boston-based investment group.

Holschuh said the tribe does not have an agenda or even specific ideas, but Native Americans wanted the sacred sites recognized.

He said the Abenaki’s heartland, or Sokoki, stretches from Turners Falls in Massachusetts, about 10 miles downriver from Vernon, to the Springfield/White River Junction area.

Holschuh said he was a week late in filing the request with the PSB, but had been assured that the deadline was flexible and his request would not be rejected out of hand.

He said the Native American Affairs Commission is meeting privately with Gov. Phil Scott in Montpelier today, although Holschuh said he doesn’t plan to bring up the Yankee issue. He said the group planned to talk with Scott about its the hydro dam relicensing concerns.

He said his concerns are not about the pending sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar Holdings, a New York City industrial demolition company, but about the restoration of the site.

When Vermont Yankee was built more than 50 years ago, Holschuh said, federal and state laws regarding Native American sites were nonexistent. Subsequent reviews of various Vermont Yankee projects have not found any direct evidence of Native American activity in the heavily disturbed site.

But, he said, there was heavy Native American presence in the 1670s and earlier. During King Philip’s War, a group of more than 300 Indian fighters established a camp just below the rapids on the Connecticut River, where the Vernon hydroelectric dam was built.

And he said there are well-documented archaeological sites in Hinsdale, directly across the Connecticut River from Vermont Yankee.

“Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee is aware of the late-filed motion to intervene by the Elnu Abenaki tribe and is in the process of reviewing the motion,” said Joseph Lynch, the senior government affairs manager for decommissioning for Entergy Nuclear. “Given this is an ongoing proceeding, ENVY does not comment on the details.”

The Elnu are one of four tribes recognized by the state of Vermont.


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