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  Wednesday, May 21, 2003

 Local News


Restart of D-B top priority
Shareholders receive update


Staff writer


AKRON -- Restarting the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station is at the top of the to do list, said First Energy Chairman H. Peter Burg during an annual shareholder's meeting Tuesday.

Burg told shareholders much of the major work at the off-line plant is completed, but later -- during a question and answer session -- said there's more work to be done before it can restart.

The Carroll Township plant has been down for more than a year while workers fix physical and oversight problems that started when massive corrosion was found on the reactor head in March 2002. The plant is responsible for 7 percent of FirstEnergy's total electricity output.

Burg tried to reassure shareholders, however, by saying the price tag associated with the repairs at Davis-Besse -- which are teetering toward $400 million -- was worth it.

"The impact of Davis-Besse has been significant, but obviously we would not incur such costs unless we strongly believed that the plant's return to safe and reliable service will add long-term value," he told the crowd of more than 200.

Three of the questions and comments Burg took during the meeting dealt with Davis-Besse, and one was from Ohio Citizen Action member Amy Ryder, an outspoken opponent of the nuclear plant.

She asked the chairman -- who is also FirstEnergy's Chief Executive Officer -- how he felt about a recent survey taken at Davis-Besse in which about 15 percent of the respondents said they were aware of others who had been re-

taliated against for reporting problems in the past six months.

"That's the bad news side of the story," he said. "You always want 100 percent no defects ... We do feel like we're making considerable progress."

He added later, "Yes we've made some mistakes, we've admitted to those mistakes."

Much of the rest of the meeting focused on what many other large corporations are facing as well, a slowly changing wind of shareholders who are questioning the control a few high-powered executives have on companies.

That feeling was evident by four shareholder proposals to:

*Change how directors are elected to once a year.

*Change how FirstEnergy accounts for stock options.

*To require stock options granted to senior executives to be based on the company's performance over similar stocks.

*To seek shareholder approval of a shareholder rights plan.

All but the last proposal did not receive majority vote. And even though the proposal regarding a shareholder rights plan received 65 percent of the vote, the board of directors only has to consider it.

Several union spokesmen came to the meeting in support of the proposals and to speak out about labor concerns with the more than 4,000 union workers employed by FirstEnergy in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

They handed out red flyers before the hour-long meeting to express concerns for decaying morale as a result of grievances and lack of communication between management and the unions.

Burg said there growing pains to be expected when companies merge to create a corporation like FirstEnergy.

"We have a diverse work force that stretch from the Indiana border to the Jersey shore," he said. "It does take time to build up trust. We are dedicated to that proposition."

Originally published Wednesday, May 21, 2003

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