President Barack Obama's 2011 budget includes the Pentagon request of almost $511 million for the program responsible for disposing of chemical weapons stockpiles in Madison County and in Pueblo, Colo., according to a Berea-based watchdog group.
Last year, Sen. Mitch McConnell obtained an agreement from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to "fully fund" the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program at an average of $517 million a year for five years. With last year's amount of $550 million, this year's request puts the average for each of the two years at $530 million — a little more than what was promised.
McConnell's office said $251.8 million of the $511 million would go to the facilities at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond.
"This additional funding will help ensure that the chemical weapons stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot are not only disposed of safely but also more quickly," McConnell said in a statement.
Defense appropriations committees for the House and Senate will now consider the funding request before the final bill goes to the president for final approval, which is expected in October.
Asked what the outlook is for passage of funding in Congress, Craig Williams, project director for the Chemical Weapons Working Group, said, "You never know. Every year is a new adventure."
"There are a lot of people competing for dollars in the Defense Department just like there is everywhere else," Williams said.
"But the recent engagement by the National Security Council and the State Department in renewing and restating their commitment in this country's obligations under treaty also add weight to our confidence that we are finally on track to continue receiving a steady stream of adequate funds," he said.
Meanwhile, construction of the pilot plant that will destroy the weapons reached two significant milestones in January.
The final structural steel beam on a key support building and the first concrete placement in the main processing building were put into place during the month, according to Jeff Brubaker, project manager the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant.
The structural steel installation on the Control and Support Building began in September and was completed on Jan. 27. The building will house the control room and other support facilities for the plant. Craft workers will now focus on the installation of exterior walls.
On Thursday, construction team members placed the first concrete in the explosives-containment area of the Munitions Demilitarization Building, where the weapons will be destroyed.
That area of the building is constructed with specially designed, heavily reinforced concrete walls to contain an unlikely explosion during plant operations.
The plant will destroy 523 tons of nerve and mustard agents. Under current timetables, the destruction will begin in 2018 and won't be finished until 2021.