By Ronica Shannon
An extra $5 million was added Tuesday to the chemical weapons destruction project at the Blue Grass Army Depot after the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee accepted a request from U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
This money would bring the project’s total funding to $552.8 million for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
The $552.8 million total for 2010, if it is approved, will be the largest amount of funds in any fiscal year dedicated to disposing of the chemical weapons in Kentucky and Colorado.
The House and Senate versions of the bill must be made into one and voted on by both chambers, then sent to the president for final approval and signature.
“For years, the people of Madison County have lived near stockpiles of dangerous chemical weapons — and these weapons are a major threat to the community,” McConnell said. “The additional funds support the higher budget level secretary Gates recognized was critically important at my urging earlier this year.”
The additional funding sends the message that the weapons may be destroyed by the 2021 deadline, according to Craig Williams, director of the Berea-based Chemical Weapons Working Group.
“I think this is another positive sign that we are continuing to move in the right direction,” Williams said. “Hopefully, the pattern will continue so that we can shorten the schedule.”
Last month, the Kentucky Citizens Advisory Board was told that increased funding over the long haul would cut six years off the completion date, from 2027 to 2021, and possibly more depending on the steadiness of funding, construction rates and other considerations.
In 2005, the Kentucky chemical weapons stockpile was placed on “caretaker status” with only $33 million being requested by the Pentagon for it and Colorado — enough to secure the munitions, but virtually nothing for disposal efforts.
“This latest increase is further proof that the Congress understands the need to provide adequate funding for this project. It is particularly encouraging in these tight financial times to see this program getting the attention and dollars it deserves,” Williams said.
Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@ richmondregister.com or 624-6608.