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Vernon's Community Visit tackles what's next: Residents to vote on action items


By Chris Mays, as seen in the Brattleboro Reformer:

VERNON — Sound the bells for round two.

Vernon's Community Visit — funded through the Windham County Economic Development Program, which was the result of a settlement between nuclear plant Vermont Yankee owner Entergy and the state of Vermont to aid in the loss of approximately 600 jobs — is expected to result in plans of action for moving forward in a positive direction.

"Every town that we work with is unique," said Jenna Whitson, community and policy manager for the Vermont Council on Rural Development. "But I think the visiting team leaving that first event really felt Vernon is a town that we just got a sense of energy, dedication and commitment from its residents. It felt like the residents were ready to tackle what's next for the town."

The town is tasked with the harsh reality of Vermont Yankee's shutdown, which is having an effect on jobs and tax revenues. The Vernon-based plant is currently involved in a decommissioning process. The first phase began in January 2015 with 343 employees still on board. Last month, Entergy announced the Yankee workforce was down to 136.

A nonbinding vote at annual Town Meeting saw a large majority of residents support the siting of a natural gas plant in town. But then plans for a pipeline were shelved, bringing the town's Planning Commission back to the drawing board.

The council met with approximately 120 residents on May 18. Six different forums led to potential action items for the community to consider, said Whitson.

Her group collected notes and organized them for a presentation where top ideas will be selected by vote on Wednesday, June 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the Vernon Elementary School.

"It's a broad range," Whitson said. "There are ideas about building the tax base and boosting economic development. There are also community development ideas about recreation and building a community gathering space, cafe or grocery store."

Art Miller, chairman of the Vernon Community Visit process, said he's "very optimistic" about the next meeting. He is a resident, farmer and pastor in Vernon.

"We got some good ideas brainstorming," Miller said. "We'll narrow those down and start figuring out some action points. I think there may be some new ideas but we just got to sort through them and see where we want to go as a town. It's a neat opportunity."

Sometimes, Miller said, the government will come up with ideas for a community.

"This time, we get to do our own thing," he said.

About 10 to 15 ideas will be presented at the meeting.

"We'll open the floor up for community members to champion the best for action. Then typically we vote it down to the last three to five," said Whitson. "It's an exciting step in the process. It's really when we go from potential ideas to what Vernon is going to take on."

The entire process is scheduled to take place over two and a half hours. By the end, residents will be asked to join task forces.

The council will return on July 7 for what it calls "the resource meeting," said Whitson.

"We'll bring with us a resource team of experts and leaders," she said, referring to people with experience in fields related to action items on state, federal, non-profit and community levels. "They'll be a resource. They're not there to tell them what they should or shouldn't do."