The Demise of Nuclear Power in Our Region

The Demise of Nuclear Power in Our Region
Ariel view of Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Buchanan

At the end of April, the Hudson Valley will bid farewell to an entity both loved and loathed in our region for almost 60 years—the Indian Point nuclear power plant in the Village of Buchanan in northern Westchester County. After providing power to the lower Hudson Valley since 1962, the third and final reactor—Indian Point 3—will shut down, ending an era of nuclear power generation in our area.

The land that was once home to the Kitchewonk native American tribe, a pleasure park with a swimming pool, dance hall and boat rides, and then a thriving amusement park now holds an uncertain future.

The Buchanan Village circle with clocktower

While the plant’s closing has been applauded by environmentalists, local government leaders are working feverishly to fill the massive financial crater that will be left behind including: a $24-million per year loss for the Hendrick Hudson School District; $4 million for Westchester County; $3 million for the Village of Buchanan; $800,000 for the Town of Cortlandt and $400,000 each for the Verplanck Fire District and Hendrick Hudson Free Library.

Indian Point, owned by Entergy, has been the largest employer and taxpayer in the Town of Cortlandt. More than 900 employees will be affected, and government and business leaders worry about the impact the closure will have on local businesses.

Cortlandt Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi and Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker have been leading task forces to plan for the future of the region since 2017, when they first learned of plans to shutter Indian Point 3. “I remember we were both shocked when we found out—from a newspaper article,” recalled Puglisi. “We had no prior knowledge of this, but we went into action right away.”

The task forces they set up included local government and business leaders, and later became part of the New York State task force. Joseph Lippolis, broker/owner of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Rivertowns Real Estate, served on the town task force.

Lippolis and his wife Cynthia have offices in Croton-on-Hudson and Peekskill. “I think everyone’s concern early on was that there would be a mass exodus from the area,” recalled Lippolis. “But what we’ve actually seen is the normal ebb and flow of the marketplace. In fact, in today’s market, we’re experiencing a shortage of inventory in Buchanan, just like the rest of the lower Hudson Valley.”

The medium home price in Buchanan remains at close to $400,000, and at the end of February, 23 homes sales closed. Lippolis indicates that’s about average for the community. “It’s still a seller’s market here,” he added.

Lippolis said news of Indian Point 3’s closing has not deterred potential homebuyers from exploring the village. “We get a mix of people locally and from New York City, and a lot of first-time homebuyers,” he said. “We haven’t seen any abandoned blocks of property or homes—there’s always someone to fill the properties that become available.”

The former swimming pool at Indian Point Park (photo courtesy of the Peekskill Museum)

One of the perks of living in the Town of Cortlandt has been lower taxes, due to the presence of Indian Point. “As it closes down, taxes may increase but I think the fact that the plant will no longer be functioning there will also bring more people in,” said Lippolis.

Don Dwyer, associate broker with Howard Hanna | Rand Realty in Yorktown Heights, serves on the Cortlandt Community Coalition task force and another task force created to deal with the plant decommissioning process. He is also a founding member of the advocacy group, Power Through Cortlandt. A resident of Montrose, Dwyer has been listing and selling homes in the area for many years. “Many of the families in Montrose, Buchanan and Verplanck are multi-generational and some homes haven’t been sold in over 40 years,” he said. “I think that could start to change a bit when the taxes eventually start to catch up with other parts of Westchester County.”

Once the plant closes, Puglisi explained that the town and village will be receiving cessation funds set up by New York State for the next seven years to help bridge the gap from the taxes they had been receiving. “It’s not a cure-all,” reminded Puglisi, “it’s just a temporarily solution.” However, a bill recently signed into law will give the Town of Cortlandt the ability to tax the property that will hold the plant’s spent fuel rods in 125 concrete casks.

“I think what we may start to see is more of an equalization in taxes with neighboring communities and families, and those who have the money to pay the higher taxes will be moving in,” added Dwyer. For right now, though, it’s still a seller’s market with homes garnering multiple offers. “We’re still seeing properties snatched up in about three days,” he said.

The Hendrick Hudson School District will be hit the hardest, losing about 30% of its annual budget. Even with the cessation funds, the district will be receiving only $61 million over the next eight years, as opposed to an average of $200 million over that same time period when the plant was active. “It’s true that Indian Point kept our school taxes artificially low,” said Superintendent Joseph Hochreiter. “In fact, we’ve had one of the lowest annual tax increases in Westchester with about 1.65% each year from 2013 to 2020.”

Hochreiter noted that the area’s low taxes have also kept many people in the area from selling their homes and moving once their children graduated from high school. “As a result, we’ve seen about a 10% decline in elementary school enrollment over the last 10 years,” he added.

The school board is now considering a cost savings initiative that would designate their three elementary schools to accommodate specific grade levels. The Princeton Plan would basically remove location borders and allow students to move through the three schools together by grade levels. “Under that plan, for example, one school might be set up for kindergarten though grade two, while the next could be for grades three to five, and so on,” explained Hochreiter. “This could save us anywhere from $1.75 million to $2.2 million a year. Also, by organizing students this way, every school program will stay intact.”

Hochreiter indicated that the school board will prepare two budgets this year—one with the status quo and the other with the “Princeton Plan.” “It’s fair to say that even with the savings, the days of the 1.65% tax increase may be behind us,” he revealed. “Projected increases could run anywhere from 2.4% to 7% per year, but we will still be much lower compared to neighboring districts like Lakeland, Yorktown and Croton.”

Early History of the Property

Indian Point Park -from the Peekskill Museum

Centuries ago, no one would have ever conceived of the notion of a nuclear power plant sitting on the banks of the Hudson River. The earliest recorded use of the land in the 17th century was settlements by the Kitchewonk native Americans, who later began trading with European explorers, including Henry Hudson. Simple wigwams and crops dotted the landscape that would be replaced by reactor domes some 300 years in the future.

Almost 100 years ago, the land had been transformed into a sought-after recreation destination for people in lower Westchester and New York City. Indian Point Park, a 320-acre property, served as both a pleasure park and amusement park from 1923 to 1956.

The book, “Lost Amusement Parks of the Hudson Valley,” by Wesley and Barbara Gottock, describes how Indian Point Park and others made their debut at the turn of the 20th Century. Barbara Gottock recently spoke at the Peekskill Museum’s “History of Indian Point” presentation, divulging some little-known, yet fascinating details about the former home of three nuclear reactors.

According to Gottock, the park was owned by the Hudson River Dayliner Boat Company, and one of the largest boats, the “Washington Irving,” could transport as many as 6,600 people. “The boats had bands on board to entertain people as they made their way up the Hudson River from the city,” she explained. “Then once they arrived at Indian Point Park, people could relax at the swimming pool, take a speed boat ride and go over to the dance hall later.” Local farms also provided food for the guests.

In 1949, the park was purchased by Emanuel Kelmans, who added a parking lot, as more people were beginning to own cars. “Kelmans started to add amusements to the park, as well as concession stands,” added Gottock. Soon, it became a fully operational amusement park. “Rides were 10 cents each, and three for a quarter, and the Westchester County Fair was actually held there for three years,” she noted.

By 1954, however, the popularity of the park began to dwindle and Kelmans decided to sell the property to Con Edison for $250,000. The park remained in operation for the next two years, and finally closed operations in 1956.

The Beginning of Nuclear Power in Westchester

Indian Point Park -from the Peekskill Museum

Completed by Con Edison in 1962 at a cost of $1.25 million, Indian Point 1 was the first privately-funded project of its kind in the U.S. “The primary component, the reactor vessel, weighed 230 tons and was 40 feet long with 120 fuel assemblies,” noted Brian Vangor, Entergy Control Room Supervisor at a recent presentation of the “History of Indian Point” by the Peekskill Museum.

In October of 1974, Indian Point 1 shut down due to non-compliance with the Atomic Energy Commission’s new criteria for an emergency core cooling system. However, Indian Point 2, which had been under construction since 1966, had already been online since August of 1974. Construction on Indian Point 3, which began in 1968, became operational in 1975, the same year Con Edison sold it to the New York Power Authority. The third and final reactor vessel weighed 500 tons.

In 2000, Indian Point 3 was sold to Entergy, and just a year later, Entergy also acquired reactors 1 and 2. Indian Point 2 was eventually shut down in April 2020. Once Indian Point 3 closes, Entergy intends to sell it to Holtec International for decommissioning. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already approved the transfer of licenses to Holtec. The company has previously received approvals to purchase the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey and the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts.

“Once Holtec closes on the property, we can all meet to discuss the eventual redevelopment of the area,” said Knickerbocker. “We’ve actually been talking about this for the past four years and we’ll be using every tool in the toolkit to help our taxpayers.”

The 240-acre parcel that housed the reactors will first have to go through an intense cleanup before it could be ready development, possibly by the 2030’s. However, Puglisi and Knickerbocker are hopeful that the northern and southern areas bordering the plants may become available sooner. “Those areas are not contaminated, so we’re optimistic about the potential for that land,” said Puglisi. “The entire property will have to be rezoned and we’re anticipating some type of mixed used development that would help bring ratables back to the village of Buchanan.”

Looking Ahead

Both town and village officials are working with the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce to help the more than 200 local businesses maintain their operations. “While businesses will be losing some customers, I think the fact that Holtec will still be retaining about 300 employees will help,” said Deborah Malone, Chamber president. “We are hoping that the town will eventually be able to bring in some type of developments that bring more jobs to the area. Local employees will help to support local businesses.”

Quarry Park in Verplanck, site of a former quarry and possible home to new developments

The pandemic, of course, has affected all types of businesses throughout our region and the rest of the nation. “The business community as a whole has already been struggling over the past year and we’re still not back to any type of ‘normal’ yet,” she added.

In the meantime, the Town of Cortlandt is reaching out to potential developers and business owners to attract them to the town’s four strategic growth areas: Transit-Oriented District, adjacent to the Metro-North Railroad station; Medical Oriented District, surrounding New York Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital on Route 202; Cortlandt Boulevard Area, along Route 6 and the Waterfront Sustainability District in the hamlet of Verplanck.

Quarry Park, which currently houses an old, abandoned quarry in Verplanck, is at the center of the Town of Cortlandt’s waterfront revitalization plan. The property features an 800-foot deep water quarry surrounded by natural stone walls and acres of open space for a potential public/private partnership.

Phase One includes plans for an athletic village with indoor sports, which Cortlandt Pitch is currently considering. Merchant’s Daughter, a hard cider producer, is also viewing Quarry Park for a possible location along the Hudson River that could include an outdoor tasting area.

In Phase Two of the plans, the town would seek some type of aquatic recreation at the quarry, while Phase Three could bring in a restaurant or Discovery Center. The fourth and final phase would link a waterfront boardwalk to 6th Street and existing sidewalks and trails.

In addition to concerns about securing more sources for tax revenue, Puglisi and Knickerbocker are equally worried about having enough electric power to sustain the Town of Cortlandt. “The Public Service Commission keeps telling us there will be enough power, since they now plan to rely on nearby gas-fired plants to cover the lost megawatts,” said Knickerbocker. “I do find it strange that many environmentalists believe nuclear energy is so bad, yet gas-fired plants do more polluting to the air than nuclear energy.”

As the town and village look to the future, Knickerbocker’s Citizens Advisory Panel will continue to keep Buchanan residents informed about what’s happening with the closure and its aftermath. “Our goal is to keep communication channels open as we deal with our many concerns—loss of revenue and jobs, the effect on the local businesses and real estate, and expectations for the years ahead,” she said. “We’re remaining optimistic,” added Puglisi. “Our new philosophy about the Town of Cortlandt is ‘where life works’ and we intend to stay committed to making that happen.”

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