BEREA — A Madison County man spoke last week to an international disarmament conference about the progress that Blue Grass Army Depot is making toward the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiled there.
Craig Williams of Berea spoke to the plenary and "sidebar" sessions of The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons at The Hague, the Netherlands. The organization monitors and verifies compliance with the international treaty that bans chemical weapons.
Williams is the chemical weapons project director for the Berea-based Kentucky Environmental Foundation.
"There's a lot of focus on Kentucky's progress," Williams said. "There's a lot of interest in the methodology that's being used, and in the construct of the government-community-contractor relationship that we have here."
Construction of the Madison County plant that will destroy nerve and mustard agents is 90 percent complete.
"The progress being made is notable and ... the funding appears stable," Williams said. "The funding for fiscal year 2015 is $326 million, and should neutralize any speculation that the United States is dragging its feet."
Blue Grass Army Depot will be the last site in the United States to have its chemical-weapons stockpile destroyed. The year 2023 is officially given as the date when the last munition will be destroyed in Central Kentucky, but it is Williams' opinion — which he shared in Europe — that the Madison County stockpile will be destroyed before then.
Williams was one of three representatives from non-governmental organizations in the U.S. who attended the conference. The others were from Colorado and from Global Green USA, an environmental organization. The U.S. ambassador to OPCW and Pentagon officials also attended.
The OPCW won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to rid the planet of chemical weapons.
Williams attended meetings of the OPCW in 2011 and 2013. This was only the second time that the OPCW, begun in 1997, has allowed NGO representatives to speak during a plenary session, Williams said.
"It took them a while to feel confident that NGOs wouldn't come out of left field with something inappropriate, controversial or that rattled the process," he said.
Williams noted that his trip expenses were paid by Global Green, not by private dollars that donors contributed to the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.
"This cost our donors nothing," Williams said. "So if you sent $50, it wasn't to buy me a meal in The Hague."
On Thursday, Williams travels to Washington, D.C., to speak with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell about progress on the chemical weapons plant. Last month, McConnell's Republican colleagues elected McConnell majority leader of the Senate, a position he will assume in 2015.