Published 12:00 am Friday, March 19, 2004

says tax split key to Grand Gulf opposition

[3/17/04]PORT GIBSON The local NAACP will oppose federal approval of potential expansion at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station but primarily for financial rather than safety reasons, organizers said Tuesday.

About 15 local residents attended an NAACP-sponsored meeting at First Baptist Church. The NAACP is part of a coalition asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny Entergy’s application for an Early Site Permit for a potential new nuclear reactor at the nuclear-powered electricity-generating site in Claiborne County.

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“We are concerned about redistribution of taxes as far as Grand Gulf Nuclear Station is concerned,” A.C. Garner of the NAACP’s local branch told the group of about 25.

Vicksburg artist Martha Ferris and anti-nuclear activist Paul Gunter of Washington, D.C., were also at the meeting. Ferris, who lives in the Southern part of Warren County, is one of 15 Grand Gulf-area residents named in the petition filed with the NRC.

And returning for the meeting were attorneys Monique Harden and Nathalie Walker of the New Orleans-based Alliance for Environmental Human Rights. They had first appeared on behalf of the coalition at a public hearing the NRC held on the application on Jan. 21. They introduced then the claim of “environmental racism” in the process.

Claiborne County’s population of 11,831 is about 84.1 percent black, the 2000 Census shows.

Initially, Claiborne County, then operating on a budget of about $800,000 a year, received all $16 million of the state-set annual property tax on Mississippi’s first and only nuclear plant, after it started making electricity in 1985.

The Legislature, in a move challenged in court but eventually upheld, changed the law to allocate half the revenue to Claiborne and spread the remainder among governments in 40-plus other counties served by Entergy in Mississippi.

An attorney from the Baltimore, Md.-based NAACP national office, Jeanette Wipper, said one reason the tax-redistribution was unfair was that those counties have higher proportions of white people than Claiborne.

Garner, former Civil Defense director for Claiborne County and a key official in emergency preparedness, said the changed distribution left Claiborne County with the bulk of the emergency-preparedness costs but without the tax revenue to meet them.

He said, for example, that the county needed five or six fire stations today, “and we don’t have them.”

Entergy filed its application for the permit in October. An NRC decision on it is expected in about October 2006. The cumbersome process is designed to lead to the point where if Entergy so decides it will have federal permission to add a second reactor at Grand Gulf. Costs of the process are being borne, in part, by a federal grant.

The coalition’s petition, which asks for its representatives to be heard by the full NRC, is to be decided by a panel of three administrative-law judges of the NRC’s Atomic Safety Licensing Board later this year.

The next NRC public meeting here on the application is set for April 22, 2005.

The stated purpose of the permit is to allow early resolution of environmental issues about the site. It is part of a new, streamlined regulatory approval process for nuclear power plants designed to shorten by about three years the lead time necessary to get plants into operation.

Gunter stressed the urgency for those who want to oppose the plant to get involved in the process now.

“This is our opportunity to raise these environmental issues,” he said. “And if we’re silent now, forever hold our silence.”

The local NAACP branch’s president, Joseph Davis, declined to say how many members the chapter has. Proponents of an expansion by Entergy point to the plant’s safety record, the thousands of jobs in the offing and the high unemployment rate in the community.

Organizers said Tuesday night’s turnout was kept small intentionally, to allow community leaders to ask questions and then deliver the message to other people in the county. They said it was the first in a series of such meetings that will be held.

“What this is all about is education,” Gunter said of Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s an ongoing and growing process.”