NorthStar Files Federal Application for Vermont Yankee Sale

A New York company has taken another big step toward purchasing Vermont Yankee. NorthStar Group Holdings has filed an application with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to acquire the license of the shut-down Vernon plant. The request was filed jointly with Entergy, the facility’s current owner.

Encompassing more than 200 pages, the application is a comprehensive attempt to convince the NRC that NorthStar has the expertise and the financial wherewithal to clean up the plant decades earlier than Entergy had planned.
The bottom line, administrators contend, is that “this transfer is desirable and of considerable benefit to the citizens of Vermont.”

Full story by Mike Faher in the Brattleboro Reformer.

Pending VT Yankee Sale to NY Firm, Brattleboro Coalition Ponders Steps

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The New England Coalition has spent decades raising issues before the Vermont Public Service Board about the operation, sale, uprate and relicensing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station.

Now that the plant — permanently shut down two years ago by Entergy Nuclear — could be sold to a New York City industrial demolition company, the coalition said recently it has yet to make up its mind about whether to take an adversarial role again.

Clay Turnbull, a staff member of the Brattleboro nonprofit organization, said last week the coalition was reviewing the trove of documents that Entergy Nuclear and the potential new owner, NorthStar Group Services Inc., filed about the sale and the ultimate decommissioning of Vermont Yankee.

Read the full story by Susan Smallheer of the Rutland Herald.

In the Name of Enlightenment and Progress: Dark Days in Sokwakik

The latest podcast from Brattleboro Historical Society, with Joe Rivers and his BAMS history students. It gives some good background to the subsuming of critical areas in Sokwakik, and the mid-Kwanitekw valley in general, by the construction of the Vernon, Vermont hydroelectric dam early in the last century. Many acres of riverside land were condemned to be flooded in the name of progress, the first project of its kind in the region, with many more to follow. This was a for-profit venture by a group of both local and regional businessmen, to generate power for distant markets at the expense of everything else. Sokoki Abenaki heritage and interests, being a riverine-centric culture, were ignored and ravaged, a situation which remains ongoing and challenging. The resulting impoundment was later accessed and the land further degraded by the construction of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant immediately upstream of the dam itself.

Sokwakik Now: Vernon Eyes Data Center for VT Yankee Site

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Could rows of quietly whirring computers replace Vermont Yankee? Seeking long-term options for the former nuclear plant property, Vernon Planning Commission is looking into the possibility that a technology company could build a data center – sometimes called a “server farm” – at the site.

Commission members were buoyed Wednesday night by Matt Dunne, a former Google executive with experience in siting data centers. Dunne said he believes the Yankee property has many key assets for such a development including land, water and access to large quantities of reliable power.

“It’s difficult to find the land and the kind of infrastructure that you happen to have here,” Dunne said. “It is a unique site.”

Officials said they would explore the idea further. “This, to me, is the most exciting thing for Vernon right now out of everything we’ve discussed,” Planning Commission member Patty O’Donnell said.

Full story by Mike Faher at VTdigger.org

Another version in the Greenfield Recorder

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Observations: Matt Dunne mused that this is a unique site; he may have no idea of the deeper significance of his statement. The land immediately adjacent to the Great Bend of the Kwanitekw, on both sides of the river – in Vernon, VT to the west and Hinsdale, NH to the east, but especially on the Vermont side – is highly sensitive to the Sokwakiak Abenaki and their ancestors. Adjacent to a highly favored [former] fishing place at the rapids now subsumed by the Vernon hydroelectric dam, the level terraces would have hosted the shelters, fish processing stations, food storage, celebratory and ceremonial areas, and other supporting functions needed for any sizeable, extended gathering of people. The popularity of the location amongst the region’s indigenous dwellers is documented in the historical literature, although scantily, in common with most of the area at the time of contact and immediately thereafter. It is likely there are multiple cultural sites of both a permanent and transient nature, constructed and occupied over thousands of years, and home to many hundreds of occupants, much less their final resting places purposefully chosen close by a beneficient and sacred gathering place.

Beside historical settler uses for agriculture, mills, logging, residences, and mineral extraction over the past 275 years, the very same area has been heavily compromised by the construction and operation of two electric generating plants. The aforementioned Vernon Hydroelectric dam and power station, currently owned by TransCanada, and the recently-shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, owned by Entergy Corp. – both utilizing the 26-mile impoundment of the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River – have been sited directly atop this sensitive area. As an aside, it is a patently obvious correlation that nearly all of the most noteworthy locations up and down the Valley (in terms of advantageous siting and “resources’), now heavily developed by modern industry and their attendant settlements, were chosen as a direct observation that they had already been recognized as such by the preceding indigenous populations.

These two industrial installations, although under the purview of Federal as well as many other state and local agencies, have never had comprehensive cultural assessments performed at their sites. There was little to no sensitivity for these attributes of this naturewhen the power facilities were initially sited in the early to late mid-twentieth century; although that regulatory environment has changed, awareness and responsibility have not progressed as far. There have been several smaller-scope studies completed in the course of more recent operational amendments, but these have been dismissive, incomplete, or cursory at best. A simple review of newspaper accounts from the past two centuries reveals many accounts of human remains and cultural “artifacts” recovered in the immediate vicinity. While there are a very few documented, professionally-managed archaeological sites in the record, there was also a plethora of amateur digging and collecting over the last 150 years, when such activities were quite popular and the whereabouts of such sites was much more common knowledge. The names of Walter Needham, Jason Bushnell, and Gerald Coane come to mind.

This grave omission should not stand unacknowledged and unaddressed. There are several projects and/or processes currently underway, or imminent, that will once again open these ancient and still hurtful wounds. Today’s agencies of oversight operate under a somewhat more enlightened set of responsibilities, not the least of which is inclusivity of indigenous tribal concerns, along with both human and environmental rights in general.  It is hoped that the dialogue will expand to truly reflect many more voices going forward. This blog will be sharing these stories and viewpoints as they manifest. The Old Ones are here with us in this land.

N’mikwalm8nowak – we remember them.

Askwa iodali n’daoldibna – we are still here.

 

Sokoki Sojourn and the Turners Falls Indians Debate

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The mid-Connecticut River valley, showing the traditional homelands of the Sokwakiak Abenaki (the Sokoki), known as Sokwakik (labelled in the center), south below Koasek to Peskeompskut (today’s Turners Falls). Map from Lisa Brooks’ The Common Pot: the Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (2008).

Why would Sokoki Sojourn concern itself with the current discussion around the implications of maintaining or changing the Turners Falls Indians athletic mascot? As the social, cultural, ethical, and historical implications will be examined thoroughly in the ongoing media coverage (archived here), I would simply like to make the connection, geographically and personally, with several simple observations.

To the immediate north of what is now called Turners Falls, named after British colonial Captain William Turner, but known beforehand as Peskeompskut, lies the homeland of the Western Abenaki. Gill, Northfield, Bernardston, Vernon, Hinsdale, Brattleboro, and many other nearby towns, heading northward, lie upon this ancestral landscape and, due to their continuing presence, within the selfhood of the indigenous people.  The people of this land were and are called the Sokwakiak (today’s Sokoki), meaning “the people who were set apart or who separated.” The linguistic and historical connection  can be seen and heard clearly in the early European settler’s name for Northfield: Squakheag. This is an Anglicized derivation from the Abenaki name for the region, Sokwakik.

The people of this land were most certainly present at Capt. Turner’s dawn raid upon the sleeping fishing village on May 19, 1676. They were the de facto hosts at this peacefully neutral encampment, receiving their Algonquian cousins and political allies in Metacom’s Uprising (King Philip’s War): the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, the Nipmuck, the Pocumtuck, and no doubt members of other similarly disenfranchised Tribes. Hundreds died that day – primarily children, women, and elders – and the lives of the communities were never the same again. Which, really, brings us up to today: this is why Sokoki Sojourn has taken up the mantle. The story continues and there can be no peace without justice, no honor without truth.

There Are No Unsacred Places

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This story and article reported by Howard Weiss-Tisman appeared yesterday on Vermont Public Radio: To Fill Void Left By Vermont Yankee, Vernon Looks For New Energy Projects.

Sokwakik, Squakheag, Great Bend, Cooper’s Point, Vernon Dam, Vermont Yankee…

Once again, I am struck with the antithetical values and legacies embodied in this place, so close to home. It’s almost hard to comprehend. It hurts.

Looking ahead, this toxicity will be with us for a long, long time, essentially forever: the land is basically condemned, which is a chilling sentence. Looking back just as far, essentially forever, most people have no idea what Vermont Yankee (and the Vernon hydro complex) is sitting upon… Once a favored and sacred fishing place, with small villages surrounded by corn fields, Native people have lived and died here for thousands of years. The people and the land were one, not separated. It is still a very special place, although sullied and scarred.

I think again of Wendell Berry’s words: “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”