Confronting the Stiff-Collared Rooster.
Maine. Circa 1990.
The year was 1990.
In between farming and tending and harvesting
our potato crop we were building a major new underground addition to
our potato storage.
Megan was pregnant
with our oldest boy Peter who would be born close to Christmas. One
Fall day as we were constructing and tuned in to the news on Maine
public radio, a bracing story was aired.
an absentee landowner and resident of, ironically, Oak Ridge,
Tennessee, would solve the State of Maine’s need for a low level
nuclear waste dump by selflessly offering to sell his 240 acre woodlot
on Maple Mountain on the western edge of our own six-by-six mile
Unorganized Territory Township
D Range 2.
Troubled we were as we dug and put away potatoes
We pressed onward through
the Fall and worked steadily on our potato storage knowing that Maine
winters wait for no man and exposed concrete walls housing tender
potatoes will most certainly freeze when it’s way below zero outside.
Eventually it was announced that a public hearing on the suitability of
this wild site for a nuclear waste depository would be held by the
bureaucracy at the state capitol in Augusta, Maine, some two hundred
and fifty miles to the south and a world away.
It was a beautiful late October
day, one better left to building potato houses than jawboning with
stiff-collared roosters but you do what you need to do. So at the crack
of dawn we drove away and headed down country.
we were not alone.
We traveled with our
And this fact is
Because those were the pre-population
explosion years for TDR2
now our 36-square-mile township boasts an impressive population of
eight (six of whom are Gerritsens here on Wood Prairie Farm), back then
there were only four residents in our town.
all four residents were crammed inside one old pickup truck barreling
south on I-95.
And here’s why this was
As conscientious citizens we
kept informed and we knew that the Maine Low Level Nuclear Radiation
Disposal Commission had established a long drawn out protocol allowing
for local decision-making which would culminate in an ultimate citizen
plebiscite as to whether a nuclear dump would or would not be
constructed within a given township. As residents unburdened by monthly
electric bills – because of the fact there was no power grid
electricity in our isolated TDR2 – the four of us shared a common
dislike of the nuclear industry in general, and the nuclear industry’s
concept of storing their nuclear waste in particular.
Welcome to Augusta
our way into the crowded hearing room and snaked over to our seats past
the numerous television cameras sent over from the TV stations in
Bangor and Portland. Back then, the siting of a nuclear waste dump –
low level or otherwise – was big front page news in the State of Maine. For some reason Maine residents had plenty of
concerns about nuclear waste material, which would remain dangerous for
thousands of years, ending up as neighbors.
We patiently waited our turn. First, they were finishing up hearing a report
on ‘difficulties’ at the current soon-to-be-closed eastern USA low
level nuclear waste facility in South Carolina. Seems
that state-of-the-art facility had just experienced their second
‘hundred-year rain event’ in four years and the slides projected onto
the screen showed complete mayhem and chaos – 55-gallon drums full of
nuclear waste toppled from their outdoor perches and which lay strewn
about as though it was a war zone. The
solemn fellow providing blow-by-blow commentary soberly explained that
the ‘problem’ was because engineers had not designed the waste dump’s
culverts with sufficient diameter to accommodate real heavy rains. We silently wondered that if they couldn’t
engineer for ‘hundred year rain events’ how in the world would they
deal with ‘five-hundred’ and ‘thousand-year’ rain events.
The commissioners imperceptibly nodded in
agreement signifying their acceptance of the claim that with a little
bit bigger culverts all would have dandy.
What’s more, as the meeting
topic shifted over and the audience was expertly assured, unlike South
Carolina, Maine’s low level nuclear waste dump would be cleverly belt
and suspendered. Anticipating the eventual
failure of the concrete walls - weakened as they would be by hundreds
of years worth of nuclear radiation - a tomb facility in Maine would be
constructed inside an ‘impervious’ man-made bowl of clay packed soil.
We marveled at the commissioners ability to remain solemn and
straight-faced. We wondered if the expert
engineers had ever experienced, or calculated in for, a Maine January
morning of -40ºF, or hurricane rains or the occasional earthquake.
Our Turn to Speak
our turn came up, our comments were direct and to the point.
have before you the entire population of TDR2. We
don’t like nuclear power. We don’t like your plan for a nuclear waste
dump in our town. What’s more, we don’t have grid electricity in our
township. You have a big problem. We always vote and we will never ever
in a hundred years approve of this dump in our town.
So you might just as well save Maine electric
ratepayers time and study money by shelving this foolish idea right now
because it will never fly.
Our sleepy Maine media was now enjoying a
We further elaborated that no one should be stuck with a nuclear waste dump in their
town and that the only way to eliminate the need for such a waste dump
was to cut off the waste flow by shutting down Maine Yankee, Maine’s
only nuclear plant. We repeated this No Maine Yankee mantra over and
over in both our hearing room comments and afterwards outside as we
were interviewed by the TV news crews. Later on, we learned from a
friend who was sitting inside the hearing directly behind the woman
representative from Maine Yankee that each time we called for shutting
down Maine Yankee, Ms. Maine Yankee
involuntarily and very visibly shuddered at the prospect which we
After The Fall
Reluctant to honor our
impertinent and ill-timed request and thereby create precedent, the
Commission rattled on and made plenty of dust that day going about its
serious work. Months later they came to
disqualify the TDR2 site with the stated reason being the crumbly rocky
soil on Maple Mountain doesn’t contain enough clay to make their magic
bowl. Some years later Maine Yankee
fizzled out and was shut down. They are
still storing low level nuclear waste there but it won’t be permanent
because the experts discovered Maine Yankee lies on an earthquake fault
and permanent storage wouldn’t be safe.
with Megan’s active involvement, we reached our milestone and poured
the last concrete for our potato storage with heaters ablaze in
mid-December. Five days later, after a
morning of grading onions, Megan went into labor that afternoon and
Peter was born before midnight. According to our modified plan we
buttoned up the building for winter and successfully kept the potatoes
We finished building the
potato house that next summer in time for that next potato harvest. Despite 1991 being a drought year and with a
new baby, it was a relative breeze by comparison.
& Megan Gerritsen