Preserving jobs at the Blue Grass Army Depot will be an agenda priority next week when a delegation of central Kentucky business and government leaders travel to Washington, D.C.

Mendi Goble, executive director of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, said she will be among chamber of commerce leaders from eight central Kentucky counties taking part in the trip organized by Commerce Lexington.

Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock and Marc Whitt, EKU associate vice president for marketing and public relations, also are making the trip.

Goble said she knew of no other Madison County leaders scheduled to attend.

On Monday, the depot informed its employees and advised the media that the winding down of U.S. military operations in the Middle East was reducing demand for depot materials and could lead to layoffs at the facility.

In a Thursday press release, U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Sixth District, expressed concern about the potential loss of up to 300 jobs at the depot beginning in mid-2013 and said he had arranged for next week’s visitors to meet with Pentagon officials.

“It is critical to the future of our region that we protect good-paying jobs at Blue Grass Army Depot that support both our troops and Kentucky’s economy,” said Chandler. “Blue Grass Army Depot has long been a source of pride for Central Kentucky, and I will fight to prevent these layoffs.”

“The Blue Grass Army Depot has been a focus of the Central Kentucky Regional Public Policy Group’s D.C. Fly-In priorities for several years, both from an economic development standpoint and from a security standpoint,” said Bob Quick, president and CEO of Commerce Lexington. “We look forward to meeting with Congressman Chandler and Pentagon officials next week to find a solution to this issue.”

Craig Williams, co-chair of the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board, said new jobs would be added at the depot’s chemical activity as the facility’s conventional operations could lose jobs.

Many jobs also will be recreated as the chemical weapons destruction plant, now under construction, begins operation later this decade.

Whether other depot-related jobs would use similar skill sets as those that may be eliminated remains unclear.

Some jobs for workers helping construct the plant may open as other jobs on the depot face elimination, but jobs operating the plant may not be available for several years.

At peak periods in 2013-14, about 1,100 will be employed constructing the plant, according to figures provided by Jeff Brubaker, the government’s site manager for the chemical destruction project.

During the next two years, about up to 750 will work on testing and systemizing the plant. Then in 2019-20, about 970 will be employed to operate the plant, according to Brubaker’s figures.

A CDCAB committee is working on plans for private industry and/or government operations to use workers and facilities from the weapons destruction project for other purposes.

Although still in its early phases, the committee has already developed some promising prospects, Williams said Thursday.

Federal law requires equipment and buildings that came in contact with chemical agents to be destroyed. However, much infrastructure created for the project can be reused.

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 624-6622.

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