“The ruling by federal officials to certify the emergency evacuation plans for Indian Point was harshly denounced yesterday by many public officials, while business leaders hailed it and Gov. George Pataki backed the federal government’s right to make the decision.

Many officials and opponents of the plants derided the decision, saying it neglected to take into consideration the mounting criticism of the plans, including a Pataki-commissioned report that said the plans were unworkable. Emergency officials in Albany, as well as those in Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange counties, refused to certify that their plans would work.

“Home rule is a long and cherished tradition in New York. The decision by FEMA rides roughshod over what elected officials say is necessary to protect our safety in the event of a catastrophe at Indian Point,” said Marilyn Elie, founder of the Citizens Awareness Network, which has long campaigned to close the two Buchanan plants.

But those who favor the plants’ continued operation, such as Marsha Gordon, president of the Westchester County Chamber of Commerce, said FEMA’s ruling showed that the evacuation plans were adequate to protect the public.

“That’s very good news,” she said. “Our No. 1 issue was safety, and it’s good that the work was done by FEMA and we can feel more confident that our evacuation plans will work.”

FEMA’s decision contradicts the scathing 550-page report compiled for the state by James Lee Witt Associates, a firm led by FEMA’s former director, that said the plans would not work.

Alex Matthiessen, executive director of Garrison-based Riverkeeper, said the decision puts pressure on Pataki to join the battle to shut the plants.

“All eyes are now on Governor Pataki to see if the state’s top elected official will rise to the occasion and defend the safety and security of his constituents or cave in to Washington’s reckless bureaucrats,” he said.

Earlier in the afternoon, Pataki held a news conference in Peekskill, just across Lents Cove from the nuclear complex, after signing a bill to combat teen drinking. Pataki, who lives in Garrison, within the 10-mile evacuation zone, said the Witt report was “accurate” and the basis of the state’s decision not to certify the evacuation plans. But he left it up to federal officials to make any conclusion about whether the plants should operate.

A Pataki spokeswoman later elaborated on the governor’s viewpoint.

“FEMA and the NRC have recognized the need for a more comprehensive view and are willing to explore the specialized risk factors associated with terrorism, as well as the challenges such scenarios could pose to emergency planning,” spokeswoman Mollie Fullington said in a statement. “The governor has steadfastly maintained that such issues are most appropriately reviewed by the federal agencies charged with such responsibilities, and should be accomplished in a uniform fashion across the nation in consultation with state and local agencies.”

Federal lawmakers were incensed by FEMA’s decision.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-Bronx, whose district extends into Westchester and Rockland counties, said he’d never seen a worse decision in his 27 years of public service and called it a ruling that put corporate profits above public health.

“Today, FEMA put the almighty dollar ahead of the lives of my constituents, and that is a disgrace,” he said.

Rep. Sue Kelly, R-Katonah, whose district includes the Indian Point complex, was disturbed by FEMA’s decision to brush off concerns from local and state emergency planners.

“This decision is an example of bureaucratic rubber-stamping in its most grotesque and dangerous form,” she said. “It is clear that FEMA is determined to ram this certification through at any cost.”

Both Kelly and Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, said they will seek the release of FEMA’s report on the evacuation plans. A FEMA spokesman yesterday said the agency would release only its conclusion, not the analysis that led to the decision.

“If FEMA based its decision on facts, there’s no reason not to release it,” Lowey said. “FEMA shouldn’t be allowed to operate in the dark.”

Lowey yesterday also introduced legislation that would require that state and local governments within 10 miles of a nuclear plant be required to certify their emergency plans as a condition of operation. That would give those governments veto power over the operation of nuclear plants across the nation. Currently, only the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has that authority.

“It might be a way to kill the plants that shouldn’t be there,” Lowey said.

U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said she’d request that the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hold oversight hearings on FEMA.

Assemblyman Ryan Karben, D-New Hempstead, said federal agencies should pay more attention to community concerns. His district includes several communities within the 10-mile evacuation zone.

“The federal bureaucracy refuses to acknowledge what most Hudson Valley residents already know: If there is a disaster at Indian Point, there is no way for any of us to get out,” he said.

Activist Susan Shapiro of Palisades was shocked to hear that the plans were recertified.

“It’s like a total slap in the face to the people who live in this region,” she said. “It’s totally inconsiderate and disrespectful to everybody.”

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef renewed his calls for the NRC to shut Indian Point because the plants are in a densely populated region.

But Putnam County Executive Robert Bondi said he believed Putnam County’s revised plan would work. He said FEMA had to look at the issue from a broader view.

“I think FEMA has a national responsibility and they have been very careful in reviewing this application because of all the concerns raised to date,” Bondi said.”

This article originally appeared in the Journal News