The Richmond Register

February 26, 2013

Weapons destruction plant could face more funding shortfalls

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — Of all the years for Congress to not pass a military construction budget, fiscal year 2013 was not a good one, said Craig Williams, who co-chairs the Chemical Demilitarization Citizens Advisory Board.

At Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting, Williams presented an update on the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant, which is designed to destroy 523 tons of nerve and blister agents in rockets and projectiles stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot.

Construction has been underway on the plant since 2009, but the project could face another funding shortfall for the second half of fiscal year 2013, he said.

"I’ve been saying for a long time, despite the fact we have the technology picked and the construction well under way, we have to remain vigilant in the context of congressional funding,” Williams said.

Because Congress did not pass a military construction budget, Williams said, funding is only available at the same levels as the previous year.

Total spending in 2012 was about $223,000, but the amount requested for 2013 was roughly $411,000 because this year was projected to be the “heaviest year in terms of construction activity and progress,” said Jeff Brubaker, the government’s site project manager.

"If we can get close to or equal to the amount requested, it gives us a greater chance of staying on track for this year,” Brubaker said. The construction of the 330,000 square-foot facility will proceed into 2015, he added.

For the first six months of FY 2013, the project faced a $43.3 million shortfall in military construction funds. However, “a coalition of folks” weighed in on a request to the Pentagon to reprogram its balance to fund the project, Williams said. This prevented a “significant layoff” of workers at the site.

The secured funds are sufficient for the first six months of the fiscal year, but that ends March 28.

"Now we’re back in a similar situation, but it’s not as dire,” he said. The projected shortfall for the next six months is approximately $15-20 million.

Williams is hoping to use the same “coalition of folks” to secure more funding.

"If the funding can be sustained, I think we’ll be in pretty good shape,” he said. “We’re very comfortable with the technology, we’re very comfortable with the leadership, we’d like to be a little more comfortable with the money.”

He also reported a rocket separation project which is scheduled to begin in early 2014.

The Army’s Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA) will separate 44 M-55 rockets to validate rocket propellant stability and best practices for continued storage and future demilitarization operations.

Samples already have been taken at other weapons storage sites, but the conditions under which rockets are stored at the Depot are different, Williams said.

The rockets will be removed from a storage igloo and moved to a processing igloo where they will be unscrewed. The warhead will be put back in storage while the propellant will be sent to the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey for testing.

Of those 44 rockets, 19 will stay in storage at BGCA to obtain the latest information on the propellants prior to beginning operations at the new plant, Williams said.

A recommendation was made to Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA), the agency responsible for the safe destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles in both Colorado and Kentucky, to use explosive-detonation technology (EDT) to destroy selected mustard munitions.

In the very center of the mustard projectile, the “burster” is difficult to extract, Williams said. EDT is a  proposed alternative to removing the burster, draining the mustard agent and running it through the main facility.

Several years ago, when media began reporting on the Army’s plans to “blow up” chemical weapons, “people thought it (would be occurring) out in a field some place, but EDT is what we’re talking about,” he said.

So far, the weapons destruction project has spent $104.6 million at Kentucky companies, with $63.8 million of that spent in Madison and surrounding counties, Williams reported.

Almost $400 million has been spent in local payroll with another $412 million in payroll projected for the remainder of the project.

More than 1,000 are employed to work on the project, while 933 of those employees work in Richmond.

Williams and his partners are in the first phase of a economic impact study to plan for life after the plant “completes its mission.”

"Madison County is going to be sitting here sometime in the future with a $1.4 billion facility and 1,000 highly-trained workers,” he said. “We don’t want to wait until the last minute to try to figure out what we do with that.”

The report on phase one is due in June. Phases two and three will address the repurposing of the plant.

In other business:

The fiscal court approved a proposal for Palmer Engineering to survey Wilderness Trail for $55,000.

Leftover state funds for a previous road project will be used to pay for the survey and the fixing of “a couple bad spots,” Judge/Executive Kent Clark said.

County Fire Chief Jim Cox announced the purchase of 13 sets of outer protective clothing funded by a $26,000 homeland security grant.

Through a similar grant awarded last year, the department was able to buy 10 air packs, refurbish a thermal-imaging camera and buy a cascade air system that can be used by all three local governments’ firefighters.

Grant funds also refurbished the mobile safety trailer, used at schools and churches to teach safety and to demonstrate how to get out of burning home.

The county fire department responded to 435 fire calls last year, the chief said. The runs included 51 structure fires, 23 vehicle fires and 34 forest fires.

Cox announced the Kentucky Division of Forestry burn ban went into effect Feb. 15 and will continue through April 30. Burning is not permitted within 150 feet of wooded areas between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. under the ban.

Sheriff’s Deputy Michelle Albertson said there have been “quite a few questions” about the home-incarceration program, which has prompted a meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. March 29 in the fiscal court room in Richmond.

The meeting will gather attorneys, the sheriff’s department, fiscal court, pretrial officers, the county attorney’s office and others to go over “how we work, what the rules are and why they have to go through judges for everything they need,” Albertson said.

"Every time we turn around, attorneys are calling us and we’re trying to tell them, ‘We’re only the key-holders — we don’t say when to open the door and when to close the door, only judges can do that,’” she said.

Phyllis Adams with Children’s Champions presented an update on the program. She spoke about a number of bills before state legislators designed to protect children.

"You can be assured that our school system is already ahead of the game and doing some of the things going into the law,” Adams said.

Clark read aloud the proclamation designating March as Be a Children’s Champion Month.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.