The County Executive’s Corner: We Spoke – They Listened

By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

Rockland County’s Office of Fire and Emergency Services this week took part in a scheduled exercise to test response plans developed to protect the public in the event of an emergency at Indian Point. The state-evaluated drill involved a fictitious radioactive emergency at the nuke plant and assessed the preparedness of Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Westchester counties, as well as those of Indian Point’s licensee, Entergy.

By all accounts, the county’s capable emergency planners, led by Director Gordon Wren and Assistant Director Daniel Greeley, performed flawlessly during the exercise. Our staff demonstrated emergency operations management, field monitoring and analysis, notifying the public, decision-making, implementation and support operations – all critical elements in safeguarding local residents in the event of an accident at the 2,000 megawatt facility on the banks of the Hudson River.

Wednesday’s test of the county’s emergency response plans came less than two weeks after a high-level meeting with Indian Point managers in my New City office. I requested the face-to-face discussion following the May 9th transformer explosion at the plant that shook the ground and rattled nerves. Some 16,000 gallons of transformer oil – known as dielectric fluid – poured from the damaged transformer after the fire, according to Entergy. An unknown amount of that oil spilled into the Hudson. Dielectric fluid is a light mineral oil used as an electrical insulator and coolant for transformers.

While awareness-level communication protocols were immediately enacted by Rockland County’s first responders, Entergy officials initially failed to recognize the severity of the spill, allowing oil, foam and water to flow into the river for many hours. The overflow of the transformer containment area led to riverfront contamination from Stony Point to the environmentally-sensitive marshland around the Iona Island Bird Sanctuary.

In a very pointed letter to Entergy dated May 13th, followed up with telephone conversations, I expressed my concern about the plant owner’s lack of preparedness to thoroughly contain the spill. The onsite emergency catchment system was not sufficient to handle the aftermath of the fire – and, it was not the first time a transformer failure caused offsite environmental impacts.

Following our recent meeting, I am pleased to report that Entergy agreed to purchase a containment boom system for quick deployment near storm drain discharge points to capture an unplanned release of oil and other wastewater into the river. It’s clear this purchase was made as a result of our urging.

During the meeting, Entergy officials also agreed to improve communication with the county’s Office of Fire and Emergency Services. Going forward, the plant operator will provide “a full picture” of any emergency event, with details on fires, wastewater spills and radiological releases shared with us in a timely manner. As your county executive, I will not stand for anything less than precise communication and full transparency with an emphasis on immediacy.

I am pleased that Entergy heard my concerns and is working to address them. Being a responsible corporate neighbor involves practicing good environmental stewardship and taking pride in the health and safety of surrounding residents. Power demands notwithstanding, I fully understand the risks inherent to Indian Point. As long as the plant is there, I will continue to do everything possible to make certain Entergy operates as safely as possible – in the best interest of our people and our natural resources.

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