As the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant at the Blue Grass Army Depot near Lexington and Richmond, Ky., nears closing in 2023, local concern has heightened about the surplus of workers, infrastructure and the future of the site, the Richmond Register reported Monday.
In response to the local concerns, Bechtel Parsons Enterprises, an engineering, construction and project management firm, and Bechtel National, Inc., a prime contractor for the Department of Energy, are working with the community’s economic impact work group to develop a post-closure plan focused on economic stability and avoiding significant negative impact, according to the report.
“I just wanted to point out the significant impact economically that the transition from the chemical weapons operation will have on the community, both from BGADD (Blue Grass Area Development District) standpoint of employees and the taxpayers, and so on, that are going to be affected by our community once those weapons are gone,” said Craig Williams, co-chair of the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission and Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board (CDCAB).
Betchel’s local community assistance is “in-kind,” according to the report
“This is not only a wonderful and welcome development, but something that they have provided now as something we could never provide internally without spending huge amounts of money for consultants and so on,” Williams said. “They have stepped up and provided that service.”
Additionally, DOD’s Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) provides training and assistance to communities with large defense projects that will be reduced or decommissioned so that communities avoid negative economic impact.
Williams said he explored OEA support several years ago, but regulations didn’t permit applications until a community is three years from a defense project closure. However, the county will be eligible for support next year, according to the report.
“We are creeping up now to being three years away from the year of this, according to the official schedule,” Williams said.
Williams is working with the Blue Grass Area and Development District which had previously engaged OEA to review and update its original draft application and anticipates a revised draft by December, according to the report.
“We are broadening and escalating our engagement at multiple levels,” Williams said. “We want to identify certain industrial opportunities, and that doesn’t mean just taking these people from what they are doing now and sticking them some place in the existing industrial base or business community. We are also interested in how do we develop a high-quality business plan to present to industries and corporations outside of the regional area to entice them to come here?”
The local Economic Development Working Group (EDWG) has completed the first of three phases of a study in which the Bechtel Corporation will use to prepare a long-term plan for economic stability in local counties, according to the report.
Currently, the EDWG is gathering and providing county information to the corporation regarding current industries, demographics, educational institutions, workforce information and attributes of the area to help in the design of the post demilitarization plan.
Reagan Taylor, a local judge/executive, emphasized that post-closure economic development should be a priority within the community. Taylor noted the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP), and that the Blue Grass Army Depot has created economic impact generating property taxes that are often used for new first responder equipment or other community needs.
“Those things are going to go away, and those monies are going to go away, which is going to mean that our local leaders are going to have to make again tough choices to offset that federal tax base with local tax base,” Taylor said.
Last year, the depot’s operations generated $1,255,045 to the county’s 1% occupational tax and in 2017 it generated $1,133,634, according to the report.
Currently, the staffing at Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass (BPBG) is approximately 1,238 employees with a local payroll of $978 million, the report said. By 2027, no employees are forecast to work at BPBG, according to the report.
“I have heard many people with Bechtel Parsons, with the army and federal government, that they do not want this to be left with a negative impact on our community,” Taylor said. “That they want this program, this operation, to leave a legacy.”
Army photo by Angela Messinger