River group appealing discharge permit

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – An environmental group appealed a state permit Friday that would allow Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to discharge warmer water into the Connecticut River.

The Connecticut River Watershed Council said last week it might appeal the permit unless it could work out a compromise with the plant’s owner that would ensure cooler water flows into the river.

But leaders said they chose to go to the Vermont Environmental Court because some of the issues they want resolved are conditions of the permit ordered by the Natural Resources Agency, meaning that Yankee owner Entergy Nuclear can’t change them on its own.

“We realized they don’t control the answers to all the problems that we have with the permit,” said Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, who also is the river steward for the council.

In particular, the council argues that it and other members of the public should have a greater voice in decisions regarding the river. But the discharge permit relied on advice from the Environmental Advisory Committee, consisting of representatives from federal and state agencies in the three states surrounding Vermont Yankee. The plant is on the banks of the river in Vernon, near Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The primary issue that the council wants addressed, however, is the temperature of water that Vermont Yankee is permitted to send into the Connecticut River. The nuclear power plant draws water out of the river and pipes it through a closed system to cool the steam after it has passed through the electricity-producing tubrines.

The river water, which has warmed after passing through the hot steam, then can flow directly back into the river or be diverted into a series of cooling towers on the plant grounds before going back into the Connecticut.

Entergy Nuclear wants to be able to bypass the cooling towers when it can because they’re expensive to run, drawing 10 megawatts of the electricity Yankee produces. It sought permission essentially to raise by 1 degree the temperature of water that’s returned to the river, which Deen has said could mean the water could be as warm as 85 degrees during the summer. The permit allows warmer water from June through October.

The Connecticut River Watershed Council said Yankee was never forced to prove that the warmer water is not harming fish life in the river.

“The evidence shows there has been some incremental damage, specifically to American shad,” said David Mears of Vermont Law School, who has been working on the case along with student interns Christopher Curtis and Erin Barnes. “The state is not supposed to allow degradation of resources over time.”

Deen said there once had been 15,000 or more American shad passing through the hydroelectric dam at Vernon, but in recent years that number has fallen to as few as 500. There still are significantly more fish passing through a station in Holyoke, Mass., downstream from Vernon, suggesting that the Yankee plant could be contributing, he said.

Vermont Yankee spokesman Brian Cosgrove said the company was interested in protecting the river, too, but there was no evidence what might be causing fewer fish in the river. “He doesn’t have any smoking gun that points anywhere,” Cosgrove said.

Yankee was willing to work with the council to see if there were a better way to deal with the water temperature issue – including running the cooling towers more often – but it became clear that the council also wanted to address additional issues over which the company had no control, he said.

“(Deen) seems to feel the regulatory process is flawed,” Cosgrove said.

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