Employees, businesses likely to feel hit of plant's closure

By Ferdinand Zogbaum/Cait McVey, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 05, 2013, 5:09 PM EST

It may be too early to tell exactly how the official closure of the Crystal River nuclear plant will affect the Citrus County area but likely will be impacted.

The long-term status of about 600 full-time workers is not known yet, but officials with Duke Energy, which owns Progress energy, said many of those employees will stay on through the plant's closing and decommission process.

Officials said the energy company's four coal plants will remain in service in Citrus County. In addition, the company said it will work with employees to help as many as possible make the transition to positions in other Duke Energy organizations.

Citrus Commissioner Joe Meek said while disappointed, the move clears up the plant's uncertain future and highlights a need for the county to diversify its workforce.

"While we are disappointed in the decision to retire the Crystal River Nuclear Plant (CR3), Citrus County is committed to continuing to work with Progress Energy/Duke as we move forward," Meek said. "We are dedicated to having a solid relationship with Progress Energy/Duke and are committed to working through these difficult issues with them.  Progress Energy/Duke will continue to be a vital part of our community both with their employees and with their investment in our county."

Meanwhile, Citrus County may feel the impact in other areas.

The power plant was one of the county's largest tax revenue providers, paying about $35 million in property taxes for its facilities.

Also, the local infrastructure of restaurants, hotels and other businesses that cater to plant officials, likely will be impacted by the closing.

"The Crystal River Nuclear Plant has been an important part of our generation fleet for three decades," said Alex Glenn, state president, Progress Energy Florida. "We are very sensitive to the impact on our employees at the plant and on the Citrus County economy.

"We are working to place as many employees affected by today’s announcement in other positions within the company, and we are committed to working with Citrus County to lessen the effects as much as possible."

Tax increases, budget cuts possible

Meek said as he and the other commissioners lay out their 2013-2014 budget, they're planning on having a lot less money.

"We're looking at everything we spend money on and answering if we should continue to do that or not,” he said.

Meek said everything is on the table from tax increases to cuts to services like parks, libraries and more.

"There comes a point when we've got such a severe and substantial decline in a one year period that we got to look at all the options,” he said.

Kenny Blocker, with the county's school district, said right now they're sitting back and waiting to see exactly what happens with the tax money and they've already planned for some adjustments. He said any cuts that have to be made won't affect jobs or students.

"That is out first and foremost purpose for being here,” he said. “We are a school district. We are supposed to be educating the kids."

Local business owners worried

One local business owner said she will have to relocate.

Brooklyn Deli owner Kimberly Lamartima said about 75 percent of her customers are nuclear power plant workers. She said she was devastated when she heard the news.

"I'm going to have to move to a bigger city. I don't want to move, I love it here,” Lamartima said. "I'm scared my town is going to turn into a ghost town."

Crystal River realtor Lisa VanDeBoe said plant employees are already moving out.

"They've been coming in, giving us 30 day notices. Written notices and calling,” said VanDeBoe, with Plantation Realty and Rentals.

But Duke Energy assures us it won't be the mass exodus these small businesses fear.

For starters, shutting down a nuclear plant completely can take decades and for the first few years, we're told a couple hundred workers will still be needed on site.

And, teams of workers will be brought in for the dismantling process. They’ll need places to live, shop and eat too.