Aug 19, 2012 4:17 PM
RICHMOND, Ky. (AP) - Construction crews have finished encasing the main weapons-destruction building at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond.
The Courier-Journal, which toured the facility last week, reports (http://cjky.it/RQSmUA) that the new three-story building is a milestone in the effort to destroy the 523 tons of chemical weapons stored at the depot.
Design work began on the $5.4 million project nine years ago, and construction is now more than half finished.
The new building is where 101,000 rockets containing nerve and mustard gas munitions will be dismantled beginning in 2020.
Most of the country's chemical weapons have already been destroyed.
"Anything that gets us closer to getting rid of the weapons of mass destruction in Kentucky is obviously important," said Craig Williams, who co-chairs the state's Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board and also toured the new facility.
Residents who live near the sprawling 15,000-acre site worry about possible leaks and accidental exposure. Though there have been minor vapor leaks over the years, depot officials say there's been no threat to the public.
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell has pushed for accelerated funding to destroy weapons and praised the progress that has been made.
"This is another huge step forward in ensuring the chemical weapons . are disposed of in a safe manner," he said in a statement. "This project has required incredible commitment and cooperation of community leaders at all levels."
Jeff Brubaker, the project manager for the Department of Defense, said there will be several safeguards in place for workers tasked with destroying the weapons. He said some of those include remote-controlled machines, protective suits, warning systems and 14,000-pound doors in the event of a blast.
"There's a remote possibility we could have a detonation, so the design and construction reflect that," Brubaker said, noting the concrete has a thick matrix of rebar.
Planning on the project began more than 10 years ago and construction began in 2006, but has been interrupted several times due to funding restrictions, Williams said.
"It's been a difficult thing to explain - why's it taking so long? Well, it's because of fits and starts based on Pentagon direction and indecision," Williams said. "But where we are now is on a good track. They have 2023 as the official completion date . but I believe barring some major glitch, it could be done sooner."
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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