LACEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. - In this southern Ocean County municipality, where it's a compliment to be called a Piney, and hunting and fishing on Barnegat Bay are long-held traditions, residents have been neighbors with the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant for more than 40 years.
The community has come to depend on the 700 jobs and $70 million payroll the facility brings to this rural and industrially barren nge of the Pinelands.
Residents know that the plant's presence has kept their property taxes relatively low, and have made an uneasy peace with what proximity to Oyster Creek could mean if disaster were to strike.
So reaction was mixed Thursday when word circulated that Exelon Corp. plans to shut Oyster Creek down in 2019, a decade before its federal license expires.
By agreeing to the early closure, state regulators will not require Exelon to spend as much as $800 million to build cooling towers that would have improved the condition of water recirculated into Barnegat Bay.
The arrangement is the "best option for the company, employees, and shareholders," Exelon said in a statement. And the timetable prevents "any immediate economic impact" on Lacey Township, the company said.
On Thursday, local residents weren't sure.
"I'm scared to death," said Erin Middleton, 46, who operates the Emporium at Waretown, an antiques and design store on Route 9, down the road from the plant's gates.
"It might not be for 10 years, but you have to ask yourself just what is going to happen when people start to panic about the fact that it really is going to close and all those jobs are going to go away," Middleton said. "There's nothing else here, really."
For Maureen McCloud, 41, whose 45-year-old husband is an engineer at Oyster Creek, the closure is more personal.
"We thought he would be retiring from this plant," McCloud said outside a ShopRite supermarket in a relatively new shopping center within a mile of the reactor. "Now it looks like he'll be looking for another job, which is a scary prospect."
Ed Berg of neighboring Barnegat Township said he was grateful he does not live in Lacey, "where people will have to be very concerned what is going to happen to their taxes and their property values. . . .
"There are a lot of people who own homes who work at the plant who are going to have to move," Berg said. "What's that going to do the housing market?"
Donna Parry of Waretown has lived in the shadow of the plant for 25 years.
"We made peace with the idea of it a long time ago," Parry said. "It's always in the back of your mind that it's there, but now I'm more worried about the jobs and what it's going to do to the taxes."
Not all were displeased. "It'll be good for the environment" to have the plant closed, said Jim Clarkin, 67, of Lacey Township. "For the working people, though, maybe not so good."
And Middleton wondered about Exelon's responsibility to a region "that has been so welcoming."
"What's going to happen to this monstrosity, this eyesore, when it closes? Are they just going to close it down and walk away?" she asked.
"Exelon wants to protect its stockholders, but what about the community that has stood by that plant all these years, and what about the scarred land that it will leave behind?"