“BUCHANAN – An emcee was delivering a poem and Valentine’s greetings to the crowd at a recent village Senior Citizens Club meeting, but Ben Martinelli’s thoughts lay elsewhere.
“To be honest with you,” said Martinelli, 78, seated for a moment in a Village Hall office secluded from seniors’ festivities, “I’m panicking.”
Like others in this northern Westchester County village, where he’s lived since 1970, Martinelli worries about whether taxes will soar and property values will sour with the planned shut-down of the Indian Point nuclear power plant by 2021. Indian Point owner Entergy has long delivered an enormous infusion of money that sustained the school district, the Town of Cortlandt, and the villages within it.
Consider that nearly half of the village of Buchanan’s budget is covered by Entergy. More than that, the plant’s owner has helped pay over the years for things such as a Buchanan police SUV and been a wellspring of grants to the village, to activities, and to the school district. Cortlandt and the other communities within it also stand to lose significantly.
And the plant’s up-to 2,000-megawatt capacity musters about a quarter of the electricity for New York City and Westchester County, according to Entergy, which on Jan. 6 with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, stunned municipal leaders by announcing plans to close so soon. Villagers also question where power will come from.
Martinelli, who lives with his wife in this 1.3-square-mile Hudson River village, said he’s on Social Security and draws some pension. Expenses are getting hard enough, particularly for insulin. In addition to suffering from diabetes and a bad back, he’s on oxygen “24-7” to compensate for one lung. And if the village makes deep cuts, he’s concerned police and emergency services will be farther away.
Interviews with a random sampling of villagers and business owners illuminated a curious dynamic about Indian Point. Over the years, residents and activists from other regions have expressed concerns over whether a horrible event would befall the plant — an environmental problem or explosion. But for many who live and work closest to it, the fear was what happens when their nuclear neighbor moves out.
This is a place where the patches on police uniforms include a depiction of the splitting of an atom. Nuclear energy is part of the village seal, including on a flag displayed in the local government meeting room. Municipal trucks are marked by the symbol too.
Buchanan has hosted two nuclear plants. The first was ConEdison’s and is no longer running; the current one, by Entergy, has been here since the 1970s.
“I think the fear of the plant was so over-rated, it’s ridiculous,” said Frank Thomas, another Senior Citizens Club attendee, who called the decision to close a political one. The village is going to have to do with less, he added, but said he hopes the state steps in to fill the financial and energy void.
Thomas, retired from the school district, said he worries more for his daughter, also a village resident. To understand how intrinsic Indian Point is to many in Buchanan, consider that Thomas’s son-in-law, Joe Chindano, who also lives in the village, said he helped pour the concrete at the current and former plants.
“People — carpenters, laborers, everybody, electricians, everybody — they bought homes because they worked in that plant,” Chindano said. “They sent kids to college; they bought new furniture, they bought new everything, because they worked in that plant.”
John Cito, another Senior Citizens Club attendee who lived for 38 years in Buchanan and now lives in nearby Yorktown, said he’s heard the news reports that state officials say they’ve prepared for the closure.
One thing missing from those reports, he said: “It doesn’t say what they’re going to replace it with.”
‘Part of our community’
To reach this village’s heart — population about 2,300 — head up Tate Avenue, past Fat Sal’s Bar & Grill and arrive at a roundabout. Presiding over the traffic island is a clock bearing the name Buchanan. It went up in June 2007, and a plaque thanks those who donated for it. One was Indian Point Energy Center.
These days, it’s tempting to wonder if it’s more akin to a countdown clock.
With four years to go before the shut-down — the plant’s first unit would close down in 2020 — village and other officials within Cortlandt and the school district have vowed to push to get answers soon from the state to a bevy of questions. They hold meetings, check out how other communities have dealt with the loss of a plant, and are trying to get the governor, a New Castle resident, to respond to them.
Buchanan has a four-member Board of Trustees, police, firefighters, a judge, recreation and highway departments, a full-time building inspector, a sewer treatment plant, and other services. It has an elementary school, and one of the village’s borders sits right at the edge of the Hendrick Hudson High School campus, which is in the neighboring hamlet of Montrose.
“We have a wonderful quality of life here,” said village Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker.
Knickerbocker said “we’re seeing a lot of people” from downstate moving to the village to raise their families and it is also a nice place for retired seniors.
Police Chief Brian Tubbs, noting things such as the patch on his uniform that has the atomic-energy symbol, said the plant has “been a big part of our community.”
But if the state were to not come through with something to offset lost revenue, could a last-resort scenario see the village’s existence in jeopardy?
It’s way too preliminary to go there, Knickerbocker said.
“Not one resident has said anything to me about that,” she said, noting it would require passage at referendum.
And this place seems proud to be a village. “Happy birthday Buchanan 1928 to 1978,” reads a white sign in the Village Hall’s “historical room.” People are seen turning out for 50th-anniversary festivities in photos in the room, where everything from a red soap-box derby car to a baseball jersey are frozen in time.
Buchanan officially became a village in 1928, named for Alex Buchanan, who in 1872 bought a Factory Street tannery and, with his sons, converted it to what became the nation’s largest oilcloth plant — Standard Coated Products — according to a history kept at Village Hall.
Also memorialized behind glass in Village Hall: a yellowed Evening Post front page from Dec. 7, 1954, that presages a proliferating nuclear age.
“INDIAN PT. POWER PLANT TO COST $300,000,000,” blares the banner headline.
‘Huge question mark’
Just off the roundabout, at Bark Avenue Pet Grooming, owner Sarah Nolte pondered a different cost: That of businesses to rent space, and the effects on the community at large, after Indian Point is no more.
“It’s a huge question mark hanging over this community,” she said.
She hears a lot of worry, but also from some who are more optimistic. Along with the revenue question, she questions where the community and region will get its power. Will land on the Indian Point site get redeveloped? And what happens when Entergy isn’t there anymore to pay for some school scholarships and a range of community events?
“The implications are so far-reaching,” she said.
Nolte said she’s heard differing views on what will happen to housing: some say values go down; some say up.
She expressed concern about a domino effect in which rising taxes may affect landlords, rents rise and businesses are left to contemplate whether to increase prices.
At El Condor Restaurante, owner Juan Carlos Loo said he’s not too worried about the closing affecting his business because the eatery draws customers from many communities.
But Loo does live in the village and said he’s heard some people are putting homes up for sale.
Joe Calabro, whose family business Little Bear Wheel Alignment has been around for 58 years, said the village, where he’s lived since 2005, is a great place where everybody knows each other.
While the plant over the years drew concerns and even protests from some over environmental and other questions, “you have a lot of people that need Indian Point — you know, they work there and their families go to school here,” he said.
Calabro, who said he’s had customers who work at the plant, wondered whether the closing will be so set in stone — political and other winds can change depending on who’s in elected office, he said.
“It’s going to be a little heartbreak if that does happen,” he said. “It will have a great impact around this area.”
The clock keeps ticking.”
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