The Richmond Register

March 26, 2009

Depot’s weapons disposal plant a work in progress

Ronica Shannon

The construction of the chemical weapons disposal plant at the Blue Grass Army Depot has come a long way, but still has a long way to go, according to acting site project manager Ralph Collins.

He gave a construction progress update Wednesday to the Richmond Rotary Club and explained why building the facilities needed would be such a time-consuming process.

“We’re only about 10 or 15 percent finished with construction,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of the easy stuff first. It’s just the way the money flowed and the timing of the completion of the (plant) design.”

The facilities included in the Blue Grass Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant are being constructed to destroy the 500 tons of blister agent in projectiles and nerve agent in projectiles and M55 rockets.

The aging munitions have resulted in slight vapor leaks in the past and most recently, a nerve-agent-filled steel holding container leaked because of metal corrosion.

Although the weapons have been stored there from the 1940s on, the path to weapons destruction has by no means taken the fast track.

There is still about two years worth of concrete to pour, “and we just started that this spring,” Collins said.

Approximately 93 percent of the plant’s design is completed.

At the moment, about 200 workers (mostly hired locally) are installing underground utilities, fire water system storage tanks, completing the control support building foundation as well as the foundation for the munitions demilitarization building “non-blast” area.

The weapons will be detonated in a room with a 34- to 42-inch concrete foundation and 25-inch-thick walls, Collins said.

Wednesday’s presentation was an effort to explain the complexity of the buildings to be constructed and why it is going to take about four more years to finish site construction.

Of course, the major factor in completion relies on money from the federal government.

“It’s a combination of putting all of these pieces together and making them work together,” Collins said. “That’s the hardest thing. As far as we can tell, it’s all going to work, but you don’t know until you build it.”

A recommendation has been made to the secretary of defense, he said.

“With the new administration, they want to take a look at all expenditures,” he said. “Once we see what they put in their budget, we’ll know the results of that.”

However, when it came down to answering questions about destruction deadlines, Collins did not hold back.

“Well, there’s several deadlines, and we’re not going to make any of them,” he said.

Previous deadlines have included 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2022.

Collins said Wednesday that construction may be complete somewhere between 2023 and 2024, but even that could change based on the government’s financial flow.

Richard Thomas, a member of the Rotary Club and a member of Richmond’s Planning and Zoning Commission, said he did not have any questions, but rather a comment.

“This has been going on since the 1980s,” he said.

“It’s going to be over 40 years by the time you get this thing done — maybe 50 years.

“I get frustrated when I hear about it because it seems like it’s just been going on and on and on and we don’t even know if it’s going to be done by 2024. And I don’t think you do, either. I just like to vent every once in a while.”

Call the Bluegrass Chemical Stockpile Outreach Office at 626-8944 for more details.

Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmondregister.com or 624-6608.