NEWBURYPORT — City councilors decided Monday night to send a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C., calling for a hearing on evacuation plans in the event of an emergency at the Seabrook nuclear power plant.
The letter was drafted by Councilor at-large Barry Connell last month in response to a request from Stephen B. Comley Sr., a Rowley resident and founder of the group We the People. He has been asking local officials in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to write to the NRC asking for a hearing on the matter.
Councilors voted 10-1 to approve the letter, with only Councilor at-large Bruce Vogel in opposition.
Comley has expressed concern that the current evacuation plans for communities within a 10-mile radius of the plant are inadequate.
He hopes the hearing would give first responders a chance to ask questions on whether the area could be quickly evacuated in the case of an emergency at the plant, especially during the summer tourist season.
Connell said the letter affirms the mayor and City Council's longstanding policy on the importance of the public's role in emergency planning.
"We understand that emergency planning is important when you have a hazardous facility on your border, and when drafting emergency response plans, we feel that public input is important, and not just a bunch of bureaucrats rubber-stamping everything."
Connell said the current plans contain many "absurd elements," including the strategies for evacuating local schools and hospitals, and the unrealistic expectation for nearby restaurants to house and protect large numbers of people during an emergency.
"I have no doubt that emergency responders in Newburyport and the surrounding communities are going to do their best to help people be protected, but there are so many elements to these plans that make you scratch your head," Connell said.
"I think it's appropriate," he added, "for us to remind the NRC that they have an obligation to come to our community, to consult with our public safety officials, to listen to the advice our officials give based on the knowledge they have on the ground in the community which they serve, and to listen to public input."
Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.