Metro

For many in Plymouth, nuclear plant closure brings sigh of relief

PLYMOUTH — For decades, the nuclear power plant in this coastal town provided a wealth of good jobs and millions in tax revenue, potent economic benefits that helped offset persistent safety concerns.

But as Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station aged and problems mounted, the risks began to outweigh the rewards, many residents said. So when Pilgrim’s owner, Entergy, announced Tuesday it would shut down the 43-year-old facility, many residents sighed in relief.

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“You don’t want a badly run nuclear power plant in the area,” said Christine Fletcher, whose family runs a Main Street clothing and gift shop. “It’s mostly out of sight, out of mind, but when you hear about the safety problems you start thinking ‘How many miles away am I again?’ ”

For many, even those who had thought the plant’s hefty tax payments were generally worth the trade-off, last month’s announcement that regulators had downgraded the plant’s safety rating was something of a final straw.

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The plant’s time had come and gone, they said.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence in it anymore,” said Judy Wingate, 66, a Plymouth resident.

The downgrade made Pilgrim one of the three lowest-ranked reactors in the country, and quickly raised the prospect that Entergy would close it to avoid millions in upgrades.

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As residents welcomed the closure, which will come no later than June 2019, they worried about how the town will handle the loss of a major employer.

“I think it should have been closed a long time ago,” said Dan Pierce, 48, a lifelong resident. “But I’m very worried about my taxes. Where is the money supposed to come from?”

Town Manager Melissa Arrighi said that while the company’s current yearly tax payment of more than $9 million is substantial, the town of about 56,000 is less reliant on it than in the past amid a rise in commercial and residential values.

“We’ve really lowered our dependency [on Pilgrim],” she said.

The plant’s assessed value is now just 8 percent of the town’s total tax base, she said.

Entergy’s annual tax payments to the town, once $15 million, have dropped in line with the declining value of the plant, she said.

In anticipation of the plant’s eventual closure, the town has set aside $2.7 million to help defray the lost tax revenue, she said.

Kevin O’Reilly, executive director of the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce, said the town has braced for Pilgrim’s departure, and its diverse economic base and rapid growth in recent years should help cushion the financial blow.

“The tax revenue is substantial, but Plymouth has absolutely been looking ahead,” he said.

Entergy said the plant’s 633 employees will remain on the payroll until it closes, but their future worries town officials and residents alike.

“That’s the overarching concern,” Arrighi said.

Clifford Peters, a Plymouth real estate agent, said Pilgrim’s closure will help an already growing housing market. Prospective buyers are sometimes put off by the plant, Peters said.

“People moving into town would have the extra question, ‘How close am I to the power plant?’ ” he said, likening the closure to “lifting a quiet veil off the community.”

News of the closure drew a wide range of reactions. Representative William Keating, a Democrat whose district includes Plymouth, said Entergy’s announcement was “not surprising given their unwillingness to deal with current safety standards.”

Arlene Williamson, vice president of the antinuclear energy group Cape Downwinders, welcomed the shutdown. She called on federal regulators to tighten oversight of the plant as it winds down operations.

“They are closing because of financial constraints and that will prevent Entergy from corrective action to fix several safety violations,’’ she said. “This is clearly a very dangerous situation.’’

In Plymouth, some residents said they often went long stretches without thinking about the plant, but that the recent drumbeat of bad news had brought it to the forefront.

“You try not to think about it,” Debbie Sirois said Tuesday as she was walking downtown. “But if it’s old and failing, I think it needs to be closed.”

Globe correspondent Sarah Roberts contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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