By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – NextEra’s proposed changes to the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant’s 40-year-old emergency plan has the attention of Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn and his director of Homeland Security.
Quinn told the Executive Council at its Wednesday meeting that “our focus moving forward is to make sure that any changes enhance not reduce,” emergency preparedness for the Seacoast region.
Also at the Executive Council’s meeting, Administrative Services Commissioner Charlie Arlinghaus said closing on the sale of the former Laconia State School property has been delayed again.
While efforts to close are “going fabulously,” Arlinghaus said it is taking longer than hoped to cure the title and said the “discontinuation of a road is a long process.”
That close was re-set for Jan. 15 but will be delayed because the Laconia City Council meeting to finalize the change is on Jan. 22.
There was discussion led by Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, about the escrowed amount the developer has which is still in an account held by a law firm, Arlinghaus said.
On Monday, InDepthNH.org reported that the state’s Congressional delegation is seeking a public forum before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules on changes to the Seabrook Emergency Plan and three other nuclear plants owned by NextEra in Florida and Wisconsin.
A spokesman for the NRC told InDepthNH.org that no decision has been made on whether to hold a public forum.
Rye Executive Councilor Janet Stevens, a Republican, asked Quinn about the proposed plan, noting there are quite a few waiver requests that include reducing staffing and extending response times in an emergency in the heavily populated Seacoast area she serves.
“Now is the time to comment,” to the federal request, Stevens said.
Stevens said municipal officials in the impacted zone are not aware that this is happening.
Quinn said there should be no safety and security people moved from Seabrook.
“I believe we do have a lot of questions on that,” Quinn said, and he wanted “transparency” with the process.
Stevens said: “We need Seabrook online,” but “we just have to make sure our residents are safe.”
The NRC held two meetings in 2022 at its Maryland headquarters to discuss NextEra’s plan to submit a license amendment request to consolidate the site emergency plans of its four nuclear plants in New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Florida into a single fleet-wide emergency plan.
No members of the public attended. The NRC was scheduled to issue a decision last month on the proposal, but has put it off for now.
NextEra’s proposal is to consolidate emergency response in its four nuclear plants in New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Florida, and include a remote facility in Juno, Fla.
It has had no public meetings in New Hampshire or Massachusetts where there are a total of 23 towns within its 10-mile radius.
That raised concern from the New Hampshire Congressional delegation led by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, along with Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, all Democrats, and the C-10 Research and Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that monitors and advocates for Seabrook’s safety.
C-10 spokesman Sarah Abramson said their major concern with the proposal is that it includes 49 different potential “reductions in effectiveness” compared to the current emergency plan, “which means 49 ways that the public is being put at risk should Seabrook Station experience an emergency.
“The fact that this plant is the only one in the country plagued with a specific structural degradation dubbed ‘concrete cancer’ means that the structures are weaker than they were designed to be which we think should call for more emergency response resources, or at the very least not a reduction in resources,” Abramson said.
She referred to what the NRC and NextEra confirmed in 2010 is degradation of concrete at Seabrook caused by alkali silica reaction, or ASR.
Stevens said from her reading of the emergency response change request at Seabrook “in terms of staffing, they want to go from 47 for their emergency response organization to 34 and the federal mandate is 37. Additionally, they are extending response times” from 60 to 90 minutes.
Stevens said the NRC is encouraging any comments and concerns be sent their way and “I am hoping we can revisit it, just take another look at it.”
Quinn thanked Stevens for the question and said, “I share your concerns.”
“We do have a lot of questions. We want to focus on this and ensure that in this new plan they want to do, that there is transparency…we fully understand what that means and what the impact would be to our citizens,” Quinn said.
He said Director of Homeland Security Robert M. Buxton is “acutely aware of this and will follow it in his position…”
“Streamlining processes and improving efficiency is good as long as it does not compromise the safety and security of our residents,” Quinn said.
$1 BILLION IN MEDICAID SERVICES CONTRACTS APPROVED
A set of contracts totaling $1,004,871,237 for Medicaid insurance coverage for residents was approved unanimously after significant discussion over the course of several council meetings. The matter had been tabled until Wednesday when it was approved.
With services to beneficiaries starting Sept. 1, 2024 the deal goes through 2029 with AmeriHealth Caritas New Hampshire, Inc., Manchester; Boston Medical Center Health Plan, Inc. d/b/a WellSense Health Plan, Manchester; and Granite State Health Plan, Inc. d/b/a New Hampshire Healthy Families, Bedford.
The firms are tasked with providing health care services to eligible and enrolled Medicaid individuals to provide health care services through the state’s Medicaid managed care program known as NH Medicaid Care Management.
Stevens asked questions about the high cost of pharmacy to Henry Lipman, who manages the Medicaid program.
He said about 30 percent of the cost is for pharmacy coverage.
Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington of Concord, who is running for governor as a Democrat, also asked questions about the various contracts and impacts and she thanked Lipman for answering many of her questions about the contracts before the meeting.
Councilor Gatsas asked how close New Hampshire is to a successful program in Kentucky.
Lipman said there are things that need to be handled legislatively but if the state is to go that route, it may save a considerable bundle.
“It may or may not be necessary to do a full change out of the pharmacy benefit system,” Lipman said, but he said there could be $10 million saved.
WEAVER NOMINATED TO TOP DHHS POST/TILLEY CONFIRMED
DHHS Commissioner Lori Weaver has been nominated by the governor to a second term, after taking the job initially in the interim when Lori Shibinette resigned. The position will go through 2028 and will pay a salary of $161,791 a year.
Patricia “Trish” Tilley of New London was confirmed as associate commissioner of DHHS for a term through Sept. 13, 2025, at the salary of $147,891. The vote was 4-1 with David Wheeler, Executive Councilor from Milford, a Republican, casting the lone dissenting vote.
Tilley has been director of the Division of Public Health Services since 2021.
THREE JUDGES CONFIRMED
Following public hearings on the governor’s nominations the council unanimously confirmed Jared Bedrick as justice to the Circuit Court, Benjamin Laduc to the Circuit Court and James Kennedy to the Superior Court.
CHILDCARE GRANT FOR BERLIN
The council approved, under the Community Development Block Grant program, a grant to the City of Berlin, in the amount of $459,480, to support the renovation of its leased space at the White Mountain Community College into a new childcare center which is situated at 2020 Riverside Drive. The funding is effective through 2025 using federal funds.
PEASE TERMINAL EXPANSION APPROVED
The council authorized the Bureau of Aeronautics to grant to the Pease Development Authority, $7,184,210, to construct an expansion of the terminal building at the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease in Portsmouth using mostly federal funds.
Councilor Joe Kenney of Wakefield, a Republican, asked questions about why that was going forward with just one airline, Allegiant Air, the current provider.
Transportation Commission William Cass said there are accessibility problems that need to be addressed and this is the third phase of a multi-phase project.
“The hope is part of this expansion would put them in a better position,” to secure more providers.
YOUTH MENTOR MONTH
Gov. Chris Sununu proclaimed January Youth Mentor Month to highlight the good works of those who provide additional services for kids including the Friends Program in Concord.