The establishment of a Community Advisory Panel (CAP) to serve as a communication vehicle for issues surrounding the decommissioning of the Indian Point nuclear power plants was announced last Thursday at Buchanan Village Hall.

The 25-member group will be chaired by Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker, with Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi serving as vice chairwoman, and include county executives from Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange, along with state representatives.

“We will be the eyes, ears and voices of all the community,” Knickerbocker said. “This is a regional issue. This is not a political thing. This is our home. This community was not (informed) about the closures. We were left out. We’re just tired of being told what to do.”

“It’s home rule. We live here. We work here,” Puglisi said. “We don’t want someone else to dictate what we should do. It’s been a journey. It will continue to be a journey. There are many challenges.”

On January 9, 2017, a secret agreement between Entergy, owners of the plants, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Riverkeeper was revealed. Under the pact, Indian Point Unit 2 will cease operations as early as April 2020 and Unit 3 in April 2021. However, an emergency provision is included that could give Entergy an additional four years of service in the event of war, a sudden increase in electrical demand or a sudden shortage of electric energy. Entergy officials have said that scenario is unlikely.

Units 2 and 3 at Indian Point generate approximately 2,000 megawatts of electricity for homes, business and public facilities in New York City and Westchester County. This represents approximately 25 percent of the electric power used in the region.

Buchanan is set to lose $4 million, or 46% of its operating funds, while the Hendrick Hudson School District will be suffering a $24 million hit, or 33% of its budget. Cortlandt will lose $800,000 annually, which represents two percent of its budget. In addition, the Verplanck Fire Department will lose 64% of its budget and the Hendrick Hudson Free Library will be shortchanged 28%.

“We have to make sure we insert ourselves in the communication effort,” said Hendrick Hudson Superintendent of Schools Joseph Hochreiter, a member of CAP. “We have worked tirelessly and collaboratively together to make sure we kept our spirits up as we go through this important phase. Many people are affected by what the next chapter of Indian Point holds.”

Entergy officials have said $1.8 billion has been set aside for the decommissioning of Indian Point, a process the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has given a maximum of 60 years to complete, although it has been estimated it will only take about 15 years to finish. Two representatives of Indian Point selected by Entergy will be on the CAP.

The creation of the panel was met with some harsh criticism at last week’s press conference by some grassroots community organization members who contended the panel was comprised of too many area elected officials with no clout.

“What you’re doing is a very simple solution to a complex issue,” said Marilyn Elie, a member of the Indian Point Safe Coalition, who said she lives three miles from Indian Point. “What you’re doing does not stand up to scrutiny. It’s overloaded with politicians. This is no place for small time politics. There’s very unrealistic expectations still floating around.”

Power Through Cortlandt, a group of citizens from Buchanan and Cortlandt, mostly in the Hendrick Hudson School District, that formed after Entergy announced its exit plans for Indian Point, issued a press release stating it did not support the CAP. Instead, the group said it favored a Citizens Oversight Board at the state level that it had been lobbying for with a coalition of community groups for more than a year.

“A true community organization is formed from the bottom up, not the top down,” the group stated. “In order to successfully represent the best interests of the community in question, members need to be independent, not beholden to financial interests or future reelection campaigns. Members should have a vested personal interest in all aspects of a community’s continued success and not be focused only on the specific position they represent.”

“Power Through Cortlandt is concerned that this Advisory Panel has an expiration date, while the matters affecting our community do not,” the group continued. “The Advisory Panel seems to be redundant, mimicking the local task force formed following the initial announcement of the plant’s closure. The only community representatives included are to be appointed by the same elected officials who make up its primary membership.”

Knickerbocker and Puglisi took exception to some of the criticism, insisting they would not be passive in their efforts.

“We can’t expect anything else to protect us,” Knickerbocker said. “We are the stakeholders.”

“I consider myself a public servant,” Puglisi added. “I’ve tried to give back. We have total transparency. There will be representatives of citizenry sitting on this panel.”

The Indian Point CAP will meet on an as-needed basis and is tentatively scheduled to hold its first public session this summer.

By Rick Pezzullo