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In shadow of plant, small town’s future in jeopardy

Vernon selectboard member Patty O’Donnell said the plant’s closing will affect more than 40 households in town.

Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe

Vernon selectboard member Patty O’Donnell said the plant’s closing will affect more than 40 households in town.

VERNON, Vt. — By early afternoon Tuesday, Nesbitt’s Portside Tavern was crammed with workers from the nearby Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The dirt parking lot was filled to capacity, and the main road was clogged with cars parked on the shoulder.

Hours earlier, the workers had been told the plant would close next year, an announcement few expected. Released early for the day, they stopped at the restaurant and pub on the banks of the Connecticut River to sip beers and talk about the future.

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They politely turned away when a reporter approached, but Don Rosinski, a Vernon resident who does not work at the plant, said the closure would have huge ripple effects. Everybody in the small town knows someone who works at Vermont Yankee.

“Just in my neighborhood alone, there are six families,” Rosinski said. “One just sent their third kid to college. The timing is very bad. The problem with Vermont is it’s a beautiful place to live, and there’s no way to make a living.”

Vernon is a small town of about 2,200 people, too small to need a traffic light, where bumper stickers read: “Go Green Go Nuclear” and “Vermont Yankee Vital to VT.” A little more than half of its tax revenues, $1.3 million, comes directly from the plant. Patty O’Donnell, chairwoman of the town’s selectboard, said that 45 households include plant employees, and that about 40 percent of the workers live in Vermont.

“I think the town right now is just in shock,” she said. “At the end of the day, we had 632 people working at that plant that were strong community members. Vermont Yankee employs a lot of Vermonters who’ve been Vermonters for generations.”

Although the plant has been steeped in controversy for years, O’Donnell said that support for Vermont Yankee has always been overwhelming in Vernon. The plant was by far the largest employer, and it provided some of the highest-paid jobs in the state.

O’Donnell said the closure would also affect businesses and subcontractors supported by the plant; she knows a plumber who gets a large part of his work from the company.

“It’s going to be a ghost town after that closes, I’ll say,” said Jack Emery, who has lived in town for 87 years.

At least one resident expressed relief. Maynard Beswick, 62, who was stopping in the town offices while walking his dog, said that after the earthquake in Japan two years ago and the ensuing problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, he has been worried about the safety of the Vernon plant.

“I’m glad it is going to be closed,” Beswick said. “I think it’s been in operation too long, like anything, like an automobile that deteriorates over time.”

In nearby Brattleboro, the news was welcomed by many.

Elise Gunzburg, sitting at the café at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, said she and her partner bought a house in nearby Hinsdale more than three decades ago, only to learn the night they moved in that there was a nuclear plant so close they could see it from the house. Alarmed, but unsure of what to do, she decided to unplug from the grid. For years, she filled buckets at a well and carried them to her house to flush her toilet and wash her dishes. Now she lives in Guilford and has founded a center for sustainable living skills.

“It’s totally shaped my life,” Gunzburg said. “Living off the grid was my form of activism.”

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@
globe
.com. Follow her on Twitter @carolynyjohnson.
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