Since 1962, the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan has been a familiar sight to residents of Westchester’s River Towns. In 2017, it was decided that the power plant’s time along the Hudson River would come to an end after nearly 60 years.
Although the plant’s closure was the result of years of pressure from both Governor Cuomo and local activists like Riverkeeper, the announcement came as a surprise to the local officials who would have to deal with the shutdown’s economic fallout.
Through an agreement known as a PILOT program (Payment in Lieu of Taxes), Indian Point’s parent company, Entergy, has provided $32 million a year to the surrounding area.
“The local elected officials learned about [the closure] in January of 2017,” says Dr. Richard Becker, Cortlandt’s Deputy Supervisor. “And we learned about it by reading it in the [New York] Times.”
Becker and his colleagues quickly formed an Indian Point task force to deal with the issues raised by the plant’s decommissioning. The group included Town of Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi, Village of Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker, Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, Senator Pete Harckham, and County Executive George Latimer, as well as representatives of the local business community.
“For us, it was a loss of about $800,000 a year, which we were able to manage with budget adjustments and cutting back on expenses,” says Becker. “It was a huge hit for Buchanan, and the Hendrick Hudson School District, which will be forced to raise taxes to balance their budgets.”
The school district has benefited the most from the PILOT funds, relying on the program for roughly 30% of its budget. The funds are set to decrease dramatically in the years following the plant’s closure until the program’s expiration in 2025.
Hendrick Hudson Superintendent of Schools Joseph Hochreiter, also a member of the Indian Point task force, has been considering options such as rezoning elementary schools, reducing the number of busses, and eliminating afterschool and elective programs.
“In a school system, the way to reduce expenses is to lose people who provide programs to kids,” says Hochreiter. “It leaves us with some very difficult decisions to make.”
Good news came on New Year’s Eve of 2020 when Governor Cuomo signed legislation that the task force had lobbied for, aimed at lessening the economic blow to the community.
The legislation makes it possible for surrounding towns and schools to enter into PILOT agreements with the new owners of the plant, Holtec International, which is responsible for the decommissioning process.
It also allows municipalities to assess and collect taxes on the land used for nuclear waste storage – in this case, 240 acres of waterfront land which currently house cooling pools and dry casks.
“There’s a lot of hope that there will be a new revenue source, through the ability to tax that spent nuclear fuel,” says Hochreiter. “The debate now is how do we assign value to that spent nuclear fuel, and will all the parties agree to it. That’s the next big hurdle.”
A third part of the legislation concerns the nearly 1,000 residents formerly employed at Indian Point. Because of their specialized work, some employees were offered jobs at other Entergy facilities throughout the country, while others were offered early retirement packages.
The legislation guarantees that the remaining workers will remain employed by Holtec and receive a prevailing wage.
“What we did not want is a mass exodus of workers having to leave the region, sell their homes, oversaturating the housing market,” says Hochreiter. “There are a lot of terrible things that can happen to a regional economy if that happens.”
Although it may take several years for the area to see substantial financial benefits, Dr. Becker is proud of the what he and his colleagues have accomplished and optimistic about the legislation.
“I think that this was finally some good news. I think the task force was very successful. It restores a sense of fairness, a sense of justice.”