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February 2010

February 19, 2010

Senate Committee Approves Vermont Yankee Bill

The Senate Finance Committee late yesterday unanimously agreed to send a bill regarding Vermont Yankee's relicensure to the full Senate.

The committee voted 7-0, without recommendation. That bill — S. 289 — is expected to be debated on the Senate floor next Wednesday. The full text of the bill is below.

The bill, if approved, would allow the Vermont Public Service Board and other state regulatory agencies to issue a 20-year license extension after conducting their own investigation.

If the Senate approves the bill, it moves to the House. If the Senate votes no, then it means the issue is likely dead — legislatively — for this session. The House could take up its own version, but that appears unlikely.

This does not prohibit another bill from being introduced when a new legislature is convened in January, nor does it close down entirely the investigations currently under way by the Public Service Board, the Public Service Department, and the attorney general.

Whether the case ends up in federal court remains an open question, but the Senate vote may not be the trigger that sends it there — at least not if there is hope for another vote down the road.

For now, however, as I point out in this week's "Fair Game," it does provide a political boost to Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin.

Check out Seven Days' complete Vermont Yankee coverage from this week's special issue on this hot issue.

Continue reading "Senate Committee Approves Vermont Yankee Bill" »

February 18, 2010

IRV Debate Live Chat - Burlington City Hall

Are Legislators Cheating the System? The Debate Rages On...

Localmatters-zuckerman Seven Days' recent story on Vermont legislators' liberal use of allowances for meals, mileage and hotels is getting tons of feedback — a lot of it predictably outraged.

The headline asked: "Legislators Admit to Cheating the System. Are They Justified?" Judging from the feedback we got, most readers thought "no."

We ran a full page of letters this week devoted to the question of whether it's unethical — or outright cheating — when lawmakers collect reimbursements for food not eaten, miles not driven and hotel rooms not crashed in.

I also talked about the story on "Inside Seven Days" on RETN last week.

Now the blog Green Mountain Daily and its readers are getting in on the action. Read Odum's post here, and see the responses.

Continue reading "Are Legislators Cheating the System? The Debate Rages On..." »

Whistleblower Claims Past Vermont Yankee Leaks Went Unreported

The current tritium leak at Vermont Yankee is not the first such leak, according to an anonymous individual claiming to be a Vermont Yankee employee.

That revelation is included in a two-page letter sent today to the Vermont Public Service Board by the Department of Public Service. The source is an email from Public Oversight Panel member Arnie Gundersen. Gundersen informed the DPS that he was called Sunday afternoon by a person claiming to be a VY employee.

The news occurs as the Senate prepares to vote on whether to allow the PSB to take up VY's request to relicense the plant beyond its scheduled closing date of 2012.

Read the full letter: (Download LTR-SH anonymous employee allegation)

"Employee said that in addition to the current tritium leak, there have been other leaks in the AOG (Advanced Off Gas System) in previous years," Gundersen wrote in his email to the DPS.

"Specifically, employee said that approximately two years ago, there was an unisolatable radioactive steam leak into the underground AOG drain pit," Gundersen noted. Access to the AOG drain pit was made through an outside hatch.

"Employee said that leak could not be isolated and a shutdown would have been required to repair the leak," noted Gundersen. "Employee said that 'Furmanite' leak sealant was applied to plug the hole until complete repair during the next outage."

It's not clear from Gundersen's email if that repair was made during a refueling outage. VY is scheduled to conduct a refueling outage in April.

"While the Department at this time has no reason to accept or challenge the accuracy of the allegations, it takes these allegations very seriously and is implementing a review of past Vermont Yankee corrective actions in a specific attempt to determine whether the allegations are accurate or not, and if such a leak did in fact occur, whether it was part of an underground piping system," writes PSB attorney John Cotter.

Additionally the department will be reviewing the plant's reporting obligations to see if such an event was reportable to the state and, if so, whether appropriate notifications were made.

As noted in "Fair Game" several weeks ago, Entergy has informed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in previous years of the existence of tritium in an onsite drainage system.

As word spread of the whistleblower claim, anti-Vermont Yankee groups chimed in.

"If the allegation recently made by an anonymous Vermont Yankee employee proves true, then Entergy may have failed to report or even covered up previous releases of radioactive material into Vermont's environment," said Jim Riccio of Greenpeace. "Greenpeace calls on the Department of Public Service and Attorney General William Sorrell to investigate this allegation in an expedited manner and to put Entergy officials under oath and compel their testimony in this matter."

Vermont Yankee officials did not immediately respond for comment.

See Rutland Get Destroyed

Timechasers Sundance, Shmundance. This coming weekend, Rutland's Paramount Theatre offers a film festival where you won't have to dodge paparazzi or pretend to care about the bittersweet coming-of-age films of earnest young indie directors.

Instead, you can watch RutVegas bite it, just like real Vegas did in 2012. But repeatedly. In a flood. In an avalanche. In a massive landslide. In "freak killer lightning." In "unrelenting killer hail."

The first ever Edgewood Studios Film Festival brings 10 flicks from Rutland mini-mogul David Giancola's production company to the Paramount's new 29x23-foot screen. All were shot in Rutland and environs. They feature local talent both in front of and behind the camera, as well as some big names: Stacy Keach, Billy Ray Cyrus, Sean Astin, Bruce Campbell (of Evil Dead fame), Jesse Eisenberg (of Adventureland and Zombieland), Anna Nicole Smith.

Continue reading "See Rutland Get Destroyed" »

February 17, 2010

Gundersens Step Into the Nuclear Crosshairs

It was bound to happen. Now that industry-insiders-turned-nuclear-watchdogs Arnie and Maggie Gundersen have taken center stage in the legislative showdown over whether Vermont Yankee gets relicensed for another 20 years, the nuclear industry and its supporters have begun their campaign to smear their credibility — just as they did 20 years ago when the Gundersens became whistleblowers about other corner-cutting measures in an industry that once employed them.

On Feb. 11, Rod Adams — "Rod Atoms?" GREAT aptronym! — who writes for the pro-nuclear blog Atomic Insights, wrote a post titled  "Is Arnie Gundersen Devious or Dumb? (Or Is He Just a Professional Fear-Monger?)" . In it, Adams, who describes himself as an Annapolis, Md., "father, husband, brother, nuke...and pro-nuclear activist," accuses Arnie Gundersen of making statements to the Vermont Legislature that were "evasive, without context or factually incorrect."

Among the pieces of damning evidence Adams offers for Gundersen's "lack of context" is the fact that in his testimony on tritiated water, Gundersen "pronounces the word [picocuries] with a hard I" and then drops his units of measure in subsequent references to the radioactive isotope found in test wells near the nuke plant. What a slacker!

Continue reading "Gundersens Step Into the Nuclear Crosshairs" »

Public Service Board Denies Burlington Telecom Access to City Cash

18854960_240X180 In an eight-page ruling, the Vermont Public Service Board late Tuesday denied Burlington Telecom's request to dip into the city's so-called "cash pool" to make a key $386,000 interest payment tomorrow on its lease with CitiLeasing.

This means the city will not be able to make the payment, meaning it will be in technical default of its $33 million lease purchase agreement with CitiLeasing. That's because on Friday, it agreed to a court order barring it from using pooled cash or "any other city monies" to make the payment. That includes BT revenues.

The court order, which now will govern BT's ability to pay its bills, restricts BT from using pooled cash and "other city monies" to pay any other bills it owes unless the funds are repaid in 60 days. To enforce that aspect of the order, BT agreed to give several key financial reports to the plaintiffs every 30 days, including reports of accounts payable and receivables, the daily statements of city accounts, all money due to and from BT, all money owed by BT to the city, and financial projections.

Continue reading "Public Service Board Denies Burlington Telecom Access to City Cash" »

February 16, 2010

Best Bites: Main Street Grill & Bar

118 Main Street, Montpelier 223-3188

010 When I think NECI, I tend to think great, locally influenced comfort food. That began to change this weekend, when I sampled the Lounge Mediterranean Tapas menu at the Montpelier Main Street Grill. The selections were delicious, though there was little "Vermont" about them. 

A pet project of Executive Chef Tom Bivins, the menu showcases nearly 20 choices from across the Mediterranean, most in the four dollar range. I was most excited to try the Pato y Espinacas con Mole. The tiny empanadas filled with duck and spinach burst with earthy flavor, but it was the nutty red mole that defined the fried treats.

The rustic gnocchi (pictured) were among the softest, most delicately cheesy I've ever tasted, with delightful leaves of spinach and sage mixed throughout the dough. With just a bit of butter and grated parmesan to dress them up, the ricotta dumplings were still stunning. I just wish there were more. Though only $3.95, I still found the plate, which contained just five, disappointingly skimpy.

Continue reading "Best Bites: Main Street Grill & Bar" »

February 15, 2010

IRV Debate This Thursday

195-irv On Thursday, February 18, Seven Days is teaming up with Channel 17/Town Meeting Television to host a public debate about Instant Runoff Voting. On Town Meeting Day, Burlington voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on whether the city should continue to use IRV to elect the mayor.

The debate will be between two IRV supporters, Rep. Mark Larson and Keri Toksu of the League of Women Voters, and two IRV opponents, Burlington lawyer Sandy Baird and Chuck Selene of One Person One Vote. 

A media panel, including Shay Totten of Seven Days, Bianca Slota of WCAX and John Briggs of the Burlington Free Press, will ask questions. Jess Wilson of Channel 17 will moderate. The audience will also have an opportunity to ask questions. There will be a mike for audience members, and we'll be taking questions via a live chat on this blog.

The fun starts on Thursday, February 18, at 7 p.m. Come to Burlington City Hall Auditorium, or watch the debate live on Burlington Telecom and Comcast channel 17, or on the Seven Days website. Want to tweet about it? We're using the hashtag #btvirv.

February 12, 2010

Court Order Could Force Burlington Telecom to Default on Lease

IMG_0757 It was another day, another court appearance for Burlington Telecom as the utility struggles to stay alive while responding to regulatory, legal and political inquiries.

Today BT agreed explicitly to a court order barring it from making a key $386,000 interest payment to CitiLeasing on Feb. 17 unless it receives explicit approval from the Vermont Public Service Board.

The court order will be moot if the PSB rules in BT's favor, allowing the utility to use some of what is known as pooled cash.

If the city fails to make the CitiLeasing payment, it will be in technical default of its $32 million lease. There is a $1 million reserve clause in the lease that could be accessed by CitiLeasing.

If the court order stands, BT will also be unable to access pooled cash and "other city monies" going forward to pay any other bills it owes unless the funds are repaid in 60 days. To enforce that aspect of the order, BT agreed to give several key financial reports to the plaintiffs every 30 days, including reports of accounts payable and receivables, the daily statements of city accounts, all money due to and from BT, all money owed by BT to the city, and financial projections.

"This order does nothing but provide further evidence of the commitment the city has made to comply with Condition 60," said the city's attorney, Pietro Lynn, who has been hired as outside counsel.

Robert Hemley, arguing for the plaintiffs, said this order was the only way to ensure the city would not pay its bills with pooled cash, putting taxpayers at further risk. Though, he noted several times, allowing BT to expend any further money without repaying $17 million continues to put taxpayers at risk.

BT argued before the PSB on Thursday that it wants the option of dipping into the so-called cash pool to make the February payment with the stipulation that it would repay the money in 60 days. Of course, not abiding by a similar condition is what put BT in its current financial predicament.

Continue reading "Court Order Could Force Burlington Telecom to Default on Lease" »

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