After much discussion, debate and tabling, phase one of the West Main Street project is moving forward after the Richmond City Commission accepted an order approving overhead line pole relocation between the city and Kentucky Utilities.

The debate was in regards to whether the removal and relocation of utility poles is going to be the city's responsibility or the responsibility of Kentucky Utilities.

The city of Richmond deems the project a road improvement project, which would make KU responsible for the utility pole movement and would be no cost to the city. KU, however, sees the project as a beautification project and deems the responsibility fall on the city, requiring them to pay nearly $80,000 to the utility company to relocate the poles.

Initially, this was something the city was looking to agree to in order to get the project started, but that was stopped after the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet sided with the city and aimed to work something out with the utility company financially.

That discussion resulted in lowering the price requirement to $65,288 to KU in order to do the pole relocation so that the project may take place.

City Manager Rob Minerich said with this order passing, he can receive an invoice from KU, sign a purchase order and the project will be good to go.

"This is a big deal," Commissioner Jason Morgan said. "This is a game changer for our community. Not just for economic development, but it allows people dignity, those who can't walk on our sidewalks because they are impassible. They can traverse our city safely, that is a big deal."

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In other business, Craig Williams, the Kentucky Environmental Foundation executive director gave an update to the commissioners regarding the chemical weapons disposal that is set to begin in June at the Blue Grass Army Depot, where nerve agents that have been stored there since the 1940's will be destroyed.

Williams' update touched on a technology summary, the facilities' current status, the employment and finance expenditures, the operations projection and economic impact on Madison County.

"This is the most exciting time, in all that of 30 years, because we are right on the cusp of our operations," Williams said. "This is a conversation that has been going on for decades, and we are about to start."

The chemical weapon site is the last of nine former sites throughout the nation to be destroyed. Williams explained that the site at the Blue Grass Army Depot was slated last because it was the smallest of the storage sites.

While it's smaller, it has a more complex stockpile, housing several different nerve agents (GB, VX and mustard agents) and in different munition forms (rockets and missiles).

Williams discussed the economic impact that the closing of the facilities and how it would be possible to use that infrastructure at the plant in the future to create more jobs.

"In 2022, there is projected to be 1,762 workers, working on this project, here in Richmond — paying taxes, going to restaurants, paying (for) apartments and doing all of the various things that people do when they work and spend money in the community," Williams said.

Looking forward in 2026, the number of workers would decrease to 116.

"That is a significant impact on the local economy anyway you slice it," he said.

In order to repress that, he explained, groups have taken vigorous steps to counteract a "boom and bust situation to what is the largest expenditure in Madison County for one project."

Commissioner Jacob Grant asked how many previous towns that have eliminated stockpiles were able to use some of the infrastructure that housed the destruction process in the future.

Williams responded, "These other people didn't plan ahead, and we have had a vision on this and what we want to do for years."

Following Williams's presentation was Dustin Heiser, the EMA/CSEPP director who went over the Madison County Incident Specific Plan, which addresses the procedures which should be executed if there were to be a chemical breach.

The 60-page plan outlines how the emergency would handle the conflict in communicating it in coordination with other agencies in order to safely and properly identify the public of an emergency.

"This just details the steps that would be taken for all channels were there to be a chemical release," Heiser said.

He also reported that the emergency management agency was able to hire on 12 more people in order to more efficiently cover 24/7 operations and control, once the chemical destruction does begin.

The commission voted to approve the plan.

In other business, the board:

• voted to approve an agreement between the city and Eastern Kentucky University relating to the All-A Classic Basketball Tournament, which will extend their partnership until 2023.

• approved the hiring Morgan Eaves to the Richmond Parks and Recreation Board.

The next Richmond City Commission meeting will be Tuesday, May 14 at 6 p.m. at Richmond City Hall.

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter @TaylorSixRR.

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