RICHMOND, KY. — Construction of a long-awaited weapons disposal facility at the Blue Grass Army Depot is 71 percent complete, and it remains on track to begin operations in 2020, officials said Monday following a site tour by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
McConnell, who has pushed for federal funding to destroy the 523 tons of blister and nerve agent munitions at the depot, expressed optimism that yearly appropriations will continue for the $5.4 billion project despite past funding delays.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said in a brief interview with reporters after the tour. Craig Williams, a co-chair of the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board — an independent subcommittee of local leaders — said it took several years for the project to recover from funding cuts in 2004. But construction is on schedule now that allocations have been more consistent, he said.
“The reason we are many years behind is not because of the technology and not because of anything other than Pentagon interference and budgeting problems — funding shortfalls,” Williams said.
Once operational, the Blue Grass Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant will be used to disassemble and neutralize the mustard, sarin and VX agent munitions contained in more than 100,000 rockets and artillery pieces that comprise the Blue Grass chemical weapons stockpile.
The depot has housed chemical weapons dating to 1944 at its 15,000-acre site in Richmond.
Site project manager Jeffrey Brubaker said officials expect to complete construction in early 2017 — possibly sooner if the rate of progress over the past few years continues. Crews are currently installing electrical cable, piping and climate control systems, he said, adding that the disposal process will take about three years after the plant comes online in 2020.
Forecasts have wavered over the past decade from 2018 to 2023, but Brubaker said officials have confidence in the latest completion date.
“We know today much more than we did several years ago in terms of the complexity of the design and the construction effort,” he said. “That has been factored into the revised schedule estimates.”