Research firm secures $76 million contract with Blue Grass Army Depot

gkocher1@herald-leader.comMay 9, 2013 

Battelle, the world's largest nonprofit research and development organization, will bring jobs to Central Kentucky after securing a $76 million contract at Blue Grass Army Depot.

The Columbus, Ohio-based outfit will provide services during the final phases of construction of the Madison County pilot plant that will destroy chemical weapons.

Battelle will employ more than 150 people supporting a 24/7 schedule. Battelle will bring some employees to Richmond, but "it's possible" the company will hire 100 people from Central Kentucky, said Mark Needham, the firm's site manager in Madison County.

"We would really like two-thirds to come from the local population. That's a goal," Needham said. "We just hired a scheduler who lives right here in Richmond. ... I'm a local hire. I live in Versailles."

Hiring will begin as early as next month.

"Between now and the end of the year, we'll add another eight to nine, and then more will start the year after that and then it will start to gain momentum," Needham said.

Battelle employs 15 people at the site as a subcontractor with Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass in Madison County, Needham said.

Battelle has been a part of demilitarization operations at similar chemical stockpiles in Alabama, Colorado, Maryland and Utah.

Under the five-year contract, Battelle will provide science and technology services, agent air monitoring, and laboratory services to support the Madison County plant in its final stages of construction and readiness preparation. It also will be responsible for testing the systems in place at the plant.

"We'll be equipping the lab with instruments and all the stuff we need to do our analysis," Needham said. Battelle also will check to make sure sarin or mustard agents have been truly neutralized.

"So we'll pull a sample out and check it to make sure there is no detectable agent remaining," Needham said.

The plant is 67 percent completed, said George Rangel, spokesman for general contractor Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass.

The nerve agents and blister agents are stored on 25 acres of the 15,000-acre depot, which also stores conventional munitions. Blue Grass has only 2 percent of the nation's original stockpile, and the chemical weapons there will be the last to be destroyed.

Construction of the Madison County plant should be completed in mid-2015, but it will take several years to test the plant's systems. Destruction of the weapons is scheduled to start in 2020 and be finished in 2023.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz.

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