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“Escape plan flawed, county leaders say” by Roger Witherspoon

Four county executives agreed yesterday that emergency evacuation plans will not protect residents from a disaster at the Indian Point nuclear power plants and asked for a meeting with state and federal officials to determine if the plan could be fixed.

The unanimous assessment of the Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Orange county leaders places increased pressure on state officials to take a position on emergency plans that have been routinely approved for decades. The State Emergency Management Office has until Jan. 31 to notify the Federal Emergency Management Agency that effective emergency plans exist for the region around the Buchanan plants. Without that formal certification, Indian Point would be in violation of its operating license with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Adding to the urgency was the decision of Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef not to sign an annual county letter stating that local components of the plan have been upgraded. The certifications are used by the state to determine that the plan would work in a nuclear emergency.

“It is clear to me,” said Vanderhoef, “that it would be wrong, if not outright irrelevant, to submit any formal review indicating that the plan is ‘current,’ given the substantial concerns raised by the Witt report and its conclusion that the regional plan is inadequate to protect the public.”

Vanderhoef, who discussed the plan in a conference call with his counterparts yesterday, joined Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano and Orange County Executive Edward Diana in refusing to provide the local certification.

The three also agreed that, if federal officials can’t fix the plan and pay for any improvements, the plants need to be shut down.

“The federal government has to step in,” said Diana, “so we can make a hard decision as to whether to keep the plants open or not.”

And Vanderhoef went further, calling for the immediate shutdown of the plants until all issues regarding the emergency plans were resolved.

The decisions of the executives were triggered by the release Friday of an $804,000 study by former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, which found the emergency plans did not account for terrorism and could not protect the public.

Only Putnam County Executive Robert Bondi said he will go ahead and sign the certification before the month ends unless he is ordered not to by the county legislature. The certification, he said, is simply a checklist of things the county did last year to fulfill state emergency planning requirements.

“The county and all the volunteers fulfilled the requirements of the state, and therefore we should sign it,” Bondi said. “We can attach a cover letter that points out that there are issues not covered on that checklist but, unless the county Legislature tells me not to sign it, we will fill it out.”

Legislative Chairman Robert McGuigan, D-Mahopac, said last night he intended to ask the legislature to pass a resolution within the next two weeks instructing Bondi not to sign the annual letter.

“The county executive has put us on notice that the decision is now in our lap,” McGuigan said. “We will pass a resolution not to support the existing plan and not to sign off on the certification. I will push for a resolution and seek at least six votes to make it veto-proof.”

“Bondi is wrong and should not sign the certification,” said Betsy Calhoun, head of the Philipstown League for the Environment and Safe Energy, a civic group seeking the shutdown of the twin Indian Point plants. “There are two kinds of elected officials: those who lead us as best they possibly can, and others who reflect the least controversial views going and wait to act until there is mass support.

“That is what Bondi is doing, and I do not think that is a responsible leader.”

State officials did not respond to inquiries last night. FEMA spokeswoman Carol Harris said “we will stay out of it unless the state asks us to join in.” “

This article originally appeared in the Journal News

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