The residents of Richmond and the surrounding area got some good news recently when it was announced that construction of a chemical demilitarization facility at Blue Grass Army Depot had reached about 70 percent completion. That is welcome progress.
Since 1944, the U.S. Army has stored over 500 tons of dangerous chemical weapons, including nerve agents like mustard, sarin and VX, at Blue Grass Army Depot.
Understandably, area residents have pushed for the Defense Department to eliminate these materials from their midst and to do so safely and quickly. Yet, for years, the bureaucracy in the department was unwilling to cooperate.
Working closely with local leaders, including Craig Williams of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, I've insisted the Defense Department get moving to rid the community of these weapons.
Through legislation, I worked to ensure the program had enough funding to get the job done and that the department did not divert funds away from the depot's efforts.
Even with the recent progress, the community and I have had to labor hard to avoid bumps in the road. When the demilitarization program was left with a budget shortfall at the beginning of this fiscal year, I worked to ensure that the Pentagon redirected $36 million to support continuation of the project. That $36 million in funding prevented 500 layoffs that would have taken place earlier this year.
It's a welcome change that, after years of delay, the Defense Department is now moving as swiftly and as safely as it can to dispose of these weapons. The past few years have seen impressive strides to make the chemical demilitarization effort a reality. It now sounds as if disposal of mustard agent could begin within three years.
I'm also pleased that the Defense Department has listened to the concerns of the local community. For too long they seemed indifferent to residents' opinions. The swift and safe completion of this project will rely on lawmakers, the Pentagon and the community working together, and I'm pleased that the citizens' engagement process, which I worked to incorporate into law, is bearing so much fruit.
Although the primary concern of the chemical demilitarization program must be the safety and welfare of the community, I am also gratified that the work at the site is employing over 1,200 people. During tough times, that is an important economic shot in the arm for Central Kentucky.
Looking to the future, following the completion of chemical demilitarization, I believe it would be a shame not to take advantage of the chemical demilitarization facilities and of the skills of many hard-working Kentuckians.
I will continue to stay involved with community leaders to try to develop long-term plans for Blue Grass Army Depot, and I will certainly support these efforts at the federal level any way I can.
While the progress has been excellent of late, I will not be satisfied until the disposal effort has been completed at last. My goal remains the safe and expeditious disposal of these heinous weapons.