The facility in which the 523 tons of chemical agent at the Blue Grass Army Depot will be destroyed is mostly complete, and activities that will ensure the destruction goes smoothly and safely are more than 50 percent complete.
An update on the progress of the operation was given Wednesday at the quarterly meeting of the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens' Advisory Commission and Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board (CDCAB).
"We're right where we'd thought we'd be at this point," said Jeff Brubaker, site project manager for the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP).
Craig Williams, co-chair of the CDCAB, said he believes the operation is progressing well.
"A significant amount of progress can be seen here," he said.
Supplemental funding, which the project received earlier this year after unexpected cost overruns last year, have been received and allocated to various portions of the project, Brubaker said. BGCAPP received about two-thirds of $127 million allotted for the chemical neutralization project at Blue Grass Army Depot and the Pueblo Army Depot in Colorado.
Areas of focus for the funds include acceleration of efforts relating to the water oxidation method that will be utilized in after neutralization in destroying the nerve agent-filled weapons and moving equipment relating to the explosive destruction technology that will be used for destruction of the mustard agent-filled weapons out of standby.
Construction on the EDT facility was halted and the equipment put into layup mode when BGCAPP's focus shifted to the main plant last November. The plan was made to destroy the mustard munitions after the main plant has neutralized the nerve agents.
Construction on the EDT facility will resume next month, Brubaker said.
Funding also is being used to pay overtime for about 100 workers at the plant, Brubaker said. The employees are putting in regular 50-hour weeks. Though the project saw some setbacks late last year with the discovery of defective welds, it remains on schedule, with destruction set to begin in 2020 and slated to be completed in 2023, Brubaker said.
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A new face has joined the project. Suzanne Milchling became the new program executive officer for Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives in late June.
Milchling told those at Wednesday's meeting that she has started an initiative to develop new ways of addressing problems that might arise during the chemical agent destruction project.
"We need to do things differently," she said.
The most important things to focus on as the project progresses are that the destruction is being done safely and in an environmentally conscious way, but being fiscally responsible also should be a goal. Milchling said.
She said she wants for those involved in the project to be ready for whatever situations might arise.
"I want to have a bag of tricks," she said.
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The chemical agent destruction project has had a significant impact on the local economy, said Ron Hink, project manager for Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, the contractor selected to design, construct, systemize, operate and close the chemical destruction plant. The project employees 802 people in Richmond as of right now, and that number will increase.
A little more than $101.1 million has been spent in Madison and surrounding counties, and almost $170 million has been spent with Kentucky companies. The local payroll to date is just over $880 million.
According to literature distributed at the meeting, re-usal of the plant after destruction is complete is possible, though any part of the facility that has been touched by chemical agent must be destroyed. There will be facilities, utilities and site infrastructure representing an investment greater than $1.5 billion. The decision to reuse will be decided on by the state and the Department of Army Officials.
The next public meeting of the Community Chemical Weapons Groups is scheduled for Dec. 13 at 1:30 p.m. at the EKU Perkins Building. For more information about the project, visit www.peoacwa.army.mil.
Reach Kelly McKinney at 624-6626; follow her on Twitter @kellymckinney18.
This story has been corrected since it was originally published.
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