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Duxbury

Funding dispute with nuclear plant owner leads to town layoffs

Disputes over funding of local emergency preparations to deal with a nuclear accident reveal a patchwork of agreements between the Pilgrim nuclear plant’s owner and the five communities closest to the Plymouth facility. Some town officials say the system is working well for them, but others complain they’re getting the short end of the stick.

Under federal law, the Pilgrim plant’s owner, Entergy, is required to provide funding to offset the costs of emergency response preparation to the towns that fall within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone: Carver, Duxbury, Kingston, Marshfield, and Plymouth. But how much funding is a matter the law leaves up to negotiations between the plant owner and the individual towns.

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Some local emergency management directors say Entergy is backing away from agreements to provide the additional funds needed to replace aging equipment and train the hundreds of first responders their emergency plans require. They say that Entergy officials in recent years had proposed changing the funding structure by increasing the company’s annual lump sum payment if the town would be responsible for all local training costs.

In the past, some training costs have been billed to the company. But this year, local officials said, a new management team at Pilgrim changed direction.

“They made an agreement last year. They are not fulfilling their promise,’’ said Robert Heath, Kingston’s emergency management director and fire chief. His town received $100,000 from Entergy last year, but was promised $185,000, he said.

“When somebody makes a promise and then they renege, I’m not happy about that,’’ he said. “Do I think we get great support for Entergy? No, they could do a little bit more.’’

Asked to respond to the assertions that the company is reneging on its promises for more aid, Entergy officials said the company still is in negotiations and would not discuss the details of its funding offers.

In Duxbury, officials say a broken promise by Entergy for more funding has caused the town to lay off two employees from its emergency department and weaken its preparation efforts. The town has been offered only $115,000 this year, after being promised $185,000 last year, officials say.

The loss of two part-time employees means that measures such as the distribution of revised emergency response information are not being carried out, said Kevin Nord, the town’s emergency management director and fire chief. “This, coupled with the discontinued training, will border on our ability to respond efficiently and therefore jeopardizes reasonable assurance’’ that the town is prepared for an emergency, Nord said.

Carol Wightman, an Entergy spokeswoman, said last week her company was seeking “an agreement that is fair and equitable’’ with Duxbury. “Entergy has always supported the town’s offsite emergency plans, and we will continue that support going forward,’’ she said.

Wightman directed questions about the status of emergency plans to state and local officials.

While Kingston and Duxbury say their emergency departments have been denied promised funding, the other towns in the zone say the company’s funding has been adequate, or better.

In Plymouth, officials say they are grateful for Entergy’s support for construction of the town’s first permanent emergency management center, a $1.5 million building in South Plymouth.

Plymouth’s emergency management director, Aaron Wallace, said the town and Entergy negotiated a contract two years ago that provides $245,000 in support this year. The total includes compensation for all training costs for first responders and funding for two staff, Wallace said.

Marshfield, which receives $186,000 a year in funding through an ongoing contract with Entergy, also has “a very good partnership’’ with the company, said Paul Taber, the town’s emergency management director.

“We started off with a lower level [than other towns] and we said what we needed,’’ Taber said Tuesday. “Now we’re a little bit higher than the others.’’

Marshfield uses the money to prepare not only for a nuclear emergency but for “all hazards,’’ and the planning was put to good use during last year’s hurricane, he said. Though only a portion of the town falls within the emergency zone, his department “plans for the whole community. It will not stop at Route 139,’’ Taber said.

Carver’s emergency management director, Tom Walsh, confirmed that last year Entergy managers were proposing new agreements that would provide towns with more funding, before a new management team took over and changed direction. But Walsh said Entergy’s payment of $85,000 to the town is adequate.

“I want people in Carver to know that we have adequate funding in our town,’’ Walsh said. He said it costs the town about $40,000 to train the 202 people involved in his town’s emergency plan.

But members of Duxbury’s Nuclear Advisory Committee say Entergy’s offer to their town is unrealistic in view of the extensive emergency responsibilities their town is expected to plan and train for. The town also needs to upgrade 20-year-old radios to make it possible for personnel to talk to one another, Nord said.

“All EPZ towns are not created equal,’’ said Mary Lampert, the committee’s cochairwoman. While only a small portion of Marshfield falls within the emergency zone, all of Duxbury does. Duxbury is also responsible for planning to evacuate people from beach and coastal waters in the event of a summertime nuclear emergency, she said.

Lampert said Entergy is “nickel-diming’’ the community, even though Forbes magazine last year reported that Entergy CEO Wayne Leonard’s five-year compensation is $101.96 million.

Heath agreed. “They say they don’t have the money,’’ he said.

Both state and federal emergency officials say that emergency planning in the Pilgrim zone meets legal standards now. Required reports filed by the communities indicate “that if an event were to happen today, they say they are prepared,’’ said Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

Judge said that although the state requires communities to file reports, it has nothing to do with negotiating funding with Entergy. “We’re not part of that process,’’ Judge said.

The dispute over emergency response funding takes place against a backdrop of drawn-out hearings on Pilgrim’s quest for a 20-year license renewal. The chief opposition to renewal has come from the Duxbury-based grass-roots group Pilgrim Watch, and its members contend that Entergy has responded by punishing their town. Entergy had no comment on this assertion.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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