RICHMOND — A delegation from Central Kentucky is heading to Washington, D.C., with plans to lobby to preserve jobs at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond.
Eight counties are taking part in the trip organized by Commerce Lexington. Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock and Marc Whitt, vice president for public relations, also are making the trip.
Depot employees were told Monday 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.
Craig Williams, co-chair of the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board, told The Richmond Register that new jobs would be added at the depot's chemical activities as the facility's conventional operations could lose jobs.
U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, said in a statement Thursday that the loss of up to 300 jobs at the depot beginning in mid-2013 is concerning and that 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," Chandler said.
Many jobs will be created 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 might be eliminated remains unclear.
At peak periods in 2013-14, about 1,100 will be employed in building the plant, according to figures provided by Jeff Brubaker, the government's site manager for the chemical destruction project.
During the next two years, up to about 750 will work on testing and systemizing the plant. Then in 2019-20, about 970 will be employed to operate the plant, according to figures from Brubaker.
A community advisory board 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 developed some promising prospects, Williams said Thursday.
Federal law requires equipment and buildings that come in contact with chemical agents to be destroyed.
Much infrastructure created for the project can be reused.