State, Maine Yankee spar over inspections


July 28,1999

WISCASSET - The Attorney General's Office has been called upon to referee a disagreement between Maine Yankee and state officials.

The trouble started when the state submitted a plan outlining the work inspectors intend to do while monitoring the decommissioning of the Wiscasset power plant and its grounds.

Maine Yankee executives reviewed the plan and cried foul, claiming the state has no authority to take samples or actively inspect the plant or its grounds. They argue state law allows state inspectors only to observe while Maine Yankee, its contractors and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) accomplish such tasks.

Company vice president Mary Ann Lynch fired a letter to Dr. Philip Haines, director of the state's Division of Health Engineering, on July 21 that reads, in part: "Absent a court order, we will not permit intrusive inspection by an agency that does not have authority to inspect under the federal law." The attorney's letter notes the NRC has exclusive jurisdiction over the site and that "The state nuclear safety inspector has no authority to take samples and physically inspect the Maine Yankee plant or site, a plant under the exclusive regulatory jurisdiction of the [NRC]." On Tuesday, Dr. Haines said he disagreed with Maine Yankee's position and had passed the letter on to the Attorney General's Office for a legal interpretation.

"In terms of authority, I certainly think there are some places where they are putting inappropriate restrictions around us," he said.

Disagreement between the state and Maine Yankee surfaced last year when the state requested an increase in the fees the company pays for state oversight. State officials said they needed updated equipment and additional staff to gear up for decommissioning. Maine Yankee argued the state's monitoring activities should be winding down since the plant is shut down. The state eventually won some increases in staff and equipment, but not the full budget requested.

"Most of what we have done to this point are environmental samples around the plant, not within the plant," Haines said. "I think that's where the problem lies. We think we have the authority and they don't." The state official said regardless of the outcome of this dispute, the state will get its samples eventually.

"If we don't take them now, we'll take them after they go. It just makes more sense to take them now," he said.

Haines called the present disagreement "a good chance for the lawyers to have a good time." State Sen. Marge Kilkelly (D-Wiscasset) said Tuesday she had not yet read the letter from Maine Yankee to the state. However, she predicted watching the situation play out will be "interesting." "I think it's important that everything gets done that needs to get done, but I also have concerns about duplication," she said. The senator concluded, "The Attorney General's Office is probably the best place to resolve it." Kilkelly, who serves as chairperson of Maine Yankee's Community Advisory Panel (CAP), said she will put the issue on the agenda for the next CAP meeting, tentatively scheduled for September.

Ray Shadis, spokesman for Friends of the Coast and a CAP member, said Tuesday that since Maine Yankee is going out of business, they should let the state play the role it seeks.

"I'm calling on the owners of Maine Yankee to pull their managers in check, because they are destroying whatever goodwill their employees have built up," Shadis said. "This is such a lack-grace exit." He said instead of fighting the state and the community over jurisdiction questions and clean-up standards, the company should "go the extra mile, clean it up to community comfort levels, and fare thee well." But that does not sound likely. On Tuesday, company spokesman Eric Howes said Maine Yankee has been trying to work with the state for two years on this and other issues, and has gotten nowhere.

"This has been an exercise in frustration trying to bring some order to this process," Howes said.

He said the state inspectors are welcome to attend meetings and observe while others calibrate instruments and take samples and measurements. But he said the state has "tried to take a different roleŠTo carve out a role for themselves that goes beyond their statutory hority." Any questions or concerns the inspectors have can be addressed to Maine Yankee or the NRC, he said.

"The NRC is our federal regulator, and we can't get into a situation where the roles of the agencies are confused," he said. "We answer to NRC, not to the Division of Health Engineering." Asked what will happen if the AG's Office decides the state inspectors are within their rights, Howes said Maine Yankee likely will sue the state.

"I expect we would," he said. "We're not trying to be difficult here. In our view this exceeds their authority."