Now that Hurricane Sandy is a fading memory, alert “06880” reader Nick Thiemann wonders what might have been.
Not “what if the storm was even more powerful?” Rather, “what if things turned out differently back in the 1960s?”
That’s the year United Illuminating proposed building a 14-story nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island. Which they’d bought, for that very reason.
Plenty of people were aghast.
And plenty thought it was a great idea.
Proponents were clear. Nuclear power was seen as a clean, inexpensive source of power — the fuel of the future.
The arguments against were twofold. Some believed nuclear power was dangerous. Others simply wanted to maintain the island for camping, clamming, and picnicking. (Teenagers would add “partying” to the list.)
The Westport News — a feisty upstart, just beginning to challenge the established Town Crier — took up the cause. For 2 years, editor Jo Brosious crusaded against the nuclear power plant — and for the right of Connecticut towns having the right of eminent domain over all utilities.
The Town Crier argued that the facility would reduce local taxes.
In 1969 — helped by a New York Times editorial strongly supporting Westport’s wish to preserve Cockenoe (and, Nick Thiemann says, a casual conversation in Hartford between Governor John Dempsey and Westport State Reprsentative Ed Green) — a deal was struck. UI would sell the island to the town for $200,000, if Westport dropped its proposed eminent domain legislation. State and federal funds covered 75 percent of the purchase price.
The RTM voted unanimously to buy the land.
In 1970, Life magazine cited the deal as a resounding conservation victory. A photo showed Jo Brosious at Compo Beach, with Cockenoe Island — pristine, not nuclear power plant-ed — in the background.
Which is how Cockenoe remains, 42 years later.
It’s still a place for camping, clamming, picnicking (and partying) (and rats).
But imagine for a moment — as Nick Thiemann does — what might have happened to a nuclear power plant during last month’s hurricane.
Can you say “Cockenoe Fukushima”?