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County, Scriba Moves On With Nuke Deal Without School District

OSWEGO, NY – How much the owners of Nine Mile Point Unit I will pay and to whom won’t be known until its final assessment is set later this month. And, even after that, things might change.

Based on the current $600 million assessed value of the plant, the town of Scriba, Oswego County and the school district negotiated a one-year tax agreement worth $11 million with Constellation.

The funds were to be divided among the three; however, the school district was the one party to vote not to accept the deal.

The county of Oswego (and town of Scriba) are prepared to move forward with or without the school district.

“What we hope for is the district to reconsider and jump on board with us,” said Barry Leemann, chair of the Oswego County Legislature.

The school district, however, remains steadfast in its opposition.

The major sticking point – money.

The school district, if it accepts the deal, would receive $6.35 million.

If the district continues to hold out, they could actually receive about $500,000 less, Leemann said.

According to school board president Sam Tripp, the board feels the plant should be paying more like $18 million instead of $11 million.

“We haven’t reversed our position.  There is too much money left on the table,” Tripp said. “The town and county benefit quite well from the agreement. It’s way out of proportion.”

According to Kevin Caraccioli, Scriba’s attorney, approximately 57 percent of the proposed tax money would have gone to the district under the agreement.

Tripp also expressed frustration that Constellation officials won’t come out and state what they believe the plant’s value is.

Late last month, the plant’s owners filed a tax grievance claiming market value of Nine Mile Point Unit I is $19 million.

If they go back on the tax rolls for the district they might well continue to fight their assessment, Tripp admits.

“It would be a crap shoot,” he noted. “But they’d have to pay too if we wound up fighting this in the courts. Anybody who believes that plant is only worth $19 million has a hole in their head.”

School board member Fran Hoefer said he has been threatened and pressured since speaking out against the agreement at the last county legislature meeting.

“All I have heard since this whole process began is how much money (the district) is going to get, and how much money (the county) is going to get, and how much money the town of Scriba is going to get,” he said the legislature’s public session. “But at no time have I heard anyone discuss how much money the taxpayers are going to get in exchange for the risk of having a nuclear power plant in their backyard.”

A Payment In Lieu Of Taxes agreement means more money for the town, county and district, “And a PILOT means the taxpayers get screwed,” he continued.

“He’s just spinning his wheels in the mud,” Leemann said of Hoefer. “If he really represents the people, like he claims, he should step up and do what’s right for them. This is a fair agreement that will be a bridge to much bigger negotiations in the future.”

As to Hoefer’s claims the deal was done in secret, Leemann responded, “This deal wasn’t done behind closed doors. In fact, his board president was there.”

Tripp disagrees with the town and county’s view.

“I don’t know why they aren’t holding their feet to the fire,” Tripp said. “I can’t understand why they aren’t fighting to make them pay what that plant is really worth.”

Speaking at the recent legislature meeting, Caraccioli explained that Scriba (the assessing unit) is prepared to set the assessed value of the plant at a level that will generate an amount equal to or lower than the $6.35 million the district would’ve received if the district approved the agreement.

Oswego Superintendent of Schools Bill Crist, at last month’s meeting, said the district “was missing out on by voting negatively.”

“This tax agreement was simply a bridge to get us from a time that none of us as Oswegonians appreciated, we felt we didn’t get a fair shake, to an opportunity to look at how all of us including Constellation Energy, the school district, the town of Scriba and Oswego County could work together to benefit from something that we all here enjoy and that’s having two nuclear power plants within our property. I’m disappointed in the outcome of what’s going to happen here this evening. We have an opportunity that I think we’re losing out on,” he continued.

Nuclear Regulators Ask For Scientific Study of Cancer Rates Near Nuke Plants

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has asked the National Academy of Sciences to update its first study on the risk of cancer for people who live near nuclear power plants.

The updated study would look at cancer rates around the Nine Mile Point nuclear plants, as well as cancer rates at every other nuclear facility in the country.

The two agencies will discuss a potential second study April 26.

“We’re pleased the Academy is interested in taking on this important study,” said Brian Sheron, Director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research, in a news release. “Their broad range of medical and scientific experts can give us the best available analysis of the complex issues involved in discussing cancer risk and commercial nuclear power plants.”

The first study found no link between living near a nuclear plant and deaths from cancer.  However, the first study did not look at cancer diagnosis rates but only at cancer death rates.

From the press release:

The NAS is a non-governmental organization chartered by the U.S. Congress to advise the nation on issues of science, technology, and medicine. Through the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, it carries out studies independently of the government using processes designed to promote transparency, objectivity, and technical rigor. More information on its methods for performing studies is available at http://www.nationalacademies.org/studycommitteprocess.pdf.

The NRC is seeking the expertise of the NAS to update the 1990 U.S. National Institutes of Health – National Cancer Institute (NCI) report, “Cancer in Populations Living Near Nuclear Facilities” (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/nuclear-facilities). The staff uses the NCI report as a primary resource when communicating with the public about cancer mortality risk in counties that contain or are adjacent to nuclear power facilities. In the new study, the NRC is also interested in having the NAS evaluate cancer diagnosis rates, as well as exploring how to divide the study areas around the facilities into geographical units smaller than the counties used in the NCI report.

The NCI report studied more than 900,000 cancer deaths from 1950–1984, using mortality records collected from counties that contain nuclear facilities. The researchers evaluated changes in mortality rates for 16 types of cancer in these counties from 1950 until each facility began operation, up until 1982. Cancer diagnosis information was only available for four facilities located in Iowa and Connecticut, due to the lack of this type of data being collected. The NCI report showed no increased risk of death from cancer for people living in the 107 U.S. counties containing or closely adjacent to 62 nuclear facilities, including all of the nuclear power reactors operational before 1982.

County Looks at Tax Options for Nuclear Plants

By Barry Leemann, Chairman, Oswego County Legislature

For many years I have heard people talking about the taxes paid by our nuclear plants. Many have asked what is happening now that the plants’ tax agreements are getting close to the end. So I thought I’d give everyone an update, and write about the pros and cons of placing the plants on the tax rolls, versus entering into a tax agreement with the plants’ owners.

The Town of Scriba is the assessing unit for the three nuclear plants. The owners of the plants, Entergy and Constellation, have asked Scriba to negotiate new tax agreements. The Town, County and the Mexico and Oswego school districts are working cooperatively together to determine the future tax status of the plants. We have hired the Duane Morris law firm from Washington DC, one of the top energy law firms in the nation, to help us with the negotiations. We’ve also hired the top nuclear plant appraiser in the nation, the George Sansoucy firm, to help us establish the plants’ values for the tax roll.

We all agree that, under the current tax agreements, the payments made by the plants to the four government entities are too low. We also want to ensure that the nuclear generators pay their fair share of taxes, just like any other business in the community.

The question is, is it better to do this with a new tax agreement or by returning the nuclear plants to the tax rolls? There is no clear answer. I will try and explain the pros and cons of each.

Tax Rolls: Placing the plants on the tax rolls has the benefit of making sure the plants are taxed according to their assessed value, just like any other business or residence. In some cases, placing a business on the tax rolls results in higher tax payments than a tax agreement. However, it has the disadvantage of risking yearly legal challenges to the assessment, called a tax certiorari. (A nuclear plant can grieve their assessment just like you can.)

Those legal battles can cost taxpayers significantly. If an owner of a nuclear plant proves to a judge that the assessed value of the plant is too high, the County, Town and school may be ordered to refund the difference in the taxes. Depending on the order, the County may have to front the entire refund first, and then charge the Town’s and school’s portion back to them in the following year. This can potentially cost millions of taxpayer dollars. Placing the plants on the tax rolls can also affect the State’s school aid formula in such a way that schools receive less State aid, and that could cause local school taxes to rise.

For a high-value, market-driven facility such as a power plant, the assessed value can vary greatly year to year. This destabilizes tax rates and puts taxpayers on a roller-coaster ride of rising and falling taxes.

Tax Agreements: Placing the plants into a tax agreement has the benefit of removing the risk of costly legal challenges and settlements every year and it stabilizes budgets and taxes. It can also include other benefits, such as the low-cost power program in the current agreement with Entergy. A negotiated agreement also provides an added benefit to school districts related to the State’s school aid formula and assists them in maintaining stable school taxes.

Tax agreements have the disadvantage of requiring the governments and the company to engage in costly negotiations and agree to the property value, or the tax payment. As a result, the payments may differ from the amount of revenue that would otherwise be received if the plants were put on the tax rolls.

The tax agreements for the Nine Mile I and FitzPatrick plants expire first. At a special legislative session on Feb. 25, the County Legislature passed Local Law Number 1 of 2010. This law allows us to return those two plants to the tax rolls if a favorable tax agreement cannot be reached.

All our options are being fully analyzed by the Town, County, and the two school districts, and we will recommend to our boards whichever option is most favorable to the taxpayers and our communities.

I hope this helps to explain why we don’t just “put them on the tax rolls.” We may, but not until we are sure what is the best thing for our Scriba, County, and School taxpayers.

Quarterly Siren Tests Scheduled Feb. 1 – 5

FULTON — The Oswego County Emergency Management Office announces that the system of emergency notification sirens surrounding the three nuclear power plants at Nine Mile Point will be tested during the week of February 1 through 5. Tests will be conducted between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. This quarterly testing will include individual activation of each siren.

A system of sirens and tone-alert weather radios is in place in the 10-mile emergency planning zone surrounding the nuclear power plants at Nine Mile Point to alert residents in the event of an emergency. Tone-alert weather radios are provided to residences in the 10-mile zone that are out of hearing range of the sirens, and batteries for these radios were recently mailed. A listing of residences eligible for tone-alert weather radios is on file at the Emergency Management Office.

No action is required by the public during these tests.

During an emergency, the sirens would be sounded for three minutes to alert residents of the area to turn their AM/FM radios or televisions to local Emergency Alert System (EAS) stations for further information and instructions.

EAS stations are listed in the 2010 “Public Emergency Response Information” Calendar that was mailed to residents of the Emergency Planning Zone in December. EAS stations are also listed in the yellow pages of local telephone directories.

A limited number of calendars are still available by calling the Oswego County Emergency Management Office at 591-9150 or 1-800-962-2792 or the Public Information Office at 349-8322. The calendar is also available online at http://www.oswegocounty.com/emo.shtml

Anyone who has questions concerning the upcoming siren tests or any aspect of emergency planning may contact the Oswego County Emergency Management Office.

FEMA and NRC to Conduct Public Briefing Sept. 25

Fulton — Representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will conduct a public briefing at the Joint Information Center, next to the Oswego County Airport on County Route 176 northeast of Fulton, at 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, 2009.

The purpose of this briefing is to inform the public of the agencies’ preliminary findings in their evaluation of the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station exercise that will be conducted on Tuesday, Sept. 22. The purpose of the exercise is to test on-site and off-site emergency preparedness plans. It will involve hundreds of emergency workers from Oswego County, the State of New York, and Constellation Energy.

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