Opportunity is knocking on the door of the Blue Grass Army Depot’s chemical weapons destruction site.
“It’s a distant, faint knock at the moment,” said Craig Williams Wednesday during a press conference to address the site’s future after weapons disposal. “When it comes to the door and knocks louder, we want to be able to greet it and be prepared.”
A $120,000 grant has been issued to study future possibilities for the weapons disposal plant site after the weapons are gone.
Williams, a member of the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board (CDCAB), gathered with individuals representing several different sectors to announce the project’s intent.
“Some (chemical weapons storage) sites didn’t prepare,” he said. “You can read stories in the newspaper in places like Anniston (Alabama) and elsewhere. Headlines read, ‘900 workers to be laid off.’ We’re not going to do that here. There will be about $1 billion worth of infrastructure remaining (after the weapons are destroyed.) There also will be hundreds of workers, many of them highly skilled. We want to start now to find out how we can keep as many of them here as we possibly can. The way that we’re going to do that is this study that we’re launching today.”
Funding for the first phase of the plan came through the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.
The study will allow a strategic plan to be made that will ensure the sustainability of the depot, according to David Duttlinger, a representative of the Blue Grass Area Development District.
“Currently, there are no plans in place,” he said.
Duttlinger explained the three phases of the economic development project.
Phase one will be a job-loss aversion study, phase two will be an analysis of the site’s existing infrastructure and phase three will consist of developing a strategy to repurpose the facilities upon completion of the program.
The first phase is to be completed by June 1. Future financial requests for the study include $250,000 for phase two and $130,000 for phase three.
Former state representative Harry Moberly, who now serves as a CDCAB member, said he wanted to be sure the Blue Grass Army Depot is not shut down by the federal government in the future.
“We need to have some opportunities (for the site) on line before the job (of chemical weapon destruction) is finally accomplished. This is the biggest economic development project that’s ever come to Madison County.”
Starting to plan now will allow more time to find a way to expand the site’s capabilities, according to Daryl Smith, a member of the Blue Grass Workforce Investment Board.
“The demilitarization operations are scheduled for 2018 through 2021, followed by a three-year closure period,” he said. “We think we can divert some of the potential negative aspects.”
Duane Curry, Madison County’s planning and zoning director, spoke on behalf of Madison Judge/Executive Kent Clark who was unable to attend Wednesday’s press conference.
“We’re very excited about this study and the cooperation with all the partners,” Curry said. “It will benefit the region as a whole because we see a major trend of workers commuting into Madison County to work at the depot. We support the study entirely and would like to see the study continue.”
Mendi Goble, executive director of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce said she had heard former demilitarization sites referred to as “ghost towns.”
“I don’t see that happening here,” she said.
Current project staffing numbers for the chemical weapons disposal mission include 977 employees, 916 of whom work in Richmond. The additional 16 employees are spread throughout the U.S. in Washington, California, Ohio and Maryland.
To date, $85.9 million has been spent with Kentucky companies, and $47.9 million has been spent in Madison and surrounding counties.
Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@
- Local News
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