Vogtle expansion creates housing demand for transient workers

SHELL BLUFF, Ga. — Twin brothers Abner and Allen DeLaigle can remember the flood of workers and money that inundated Burke County when Plant Vogtle first rose from the ground decades ago.

“We had a store, and a restaurant, just down from the front gate,” said Allen DeLaigle, “We also had a camper park with 380 spaces — and we stayed full for 10 years.”

During that era, the mammoth project lured 14,000 workers to the remote banks of the Savannah River, where the demand for housing, food and other commodities was so intense that their restaurant bustled seven days a week.

“We never closed,” he said. “We just threw away the key.”

Today, as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is poised to issue the first new construction license for a U.S. nuclear plant in a generation, the 71-year-old brothers are once again hoping to cash in on the dollars that will accompany the $14.8 billion expansion that will add two new reactors to the site.

This time, though, it will be on a much smaller scale.

“We have 150 spaces now, or maybe 151,” said Abner DeLaigle. “We rent the spaces or we also got campers we rent by the week or month or whatever people need.”

A&A DeLaigle Camper Park off Georgia Highway 23 is among dozens of rental sites that have emerged in the area, with many already in use by workers who arrived during the last two years for site preparation work.

“We stay about 70 percent full, but there are plenty of places around the county,” he said. “There will be lots of people, but there won’t be as many as last time.”

Georgia Power Co. began planning Plant Vogtle in 1971 — as a four-unit facility — but halted construction in 1974 over cost concerns. When construction resumed in 1977, it had been scaled back to just two reactors that took more than a decade to complete. Units 1 and 2 finally began operation in 1987 and 1989.

This time, with the use of the new AP1000 reactor design, the workforce that swelled to 14,000 decades ago will peak at just 3,500 during the project, which could be completed by 2016 and 2017.

The smaller construction work force is in part a result of the simpler reactor design and the ability to build components elsewhere that will be shipped to Burke County for assembly. Those components will come from as far away as Japan, South Korea and Italy, with some pumps made in Pennsylvania and fuel manufactured in South Carolina.

The new units, once complete, will also roughly double the site’s permanent, 850-person work force to 1,700.

The DeLaigles also rent to the large crews, numbering as many as 800, that arrive for the periodic refueling that must be done about every 18 months at each of Vogtle’s existing reactors. “So we’re ready for this project,” Allen DeLaigle said.

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