DENVER (AP) Colorado Sens. Wayne Allard and Ken Salazar are asking the Department of Defense to end the delays and start construction of a plant to destroy munitions at the Pueblo Chemical Depot.
In a letter sent Feb. 9, Allard, a Republican, and Salazar, a Democrat, said the previous week’s announcement that plans to build the plant were on hold contradicted what they were told in January.
Acting Defense Undersecretary Michael Wynne said that his department will consider alternatives to the $1.6-billion project because the cost of the design was “unacceptably high” and existing facilities take priority over those still in the works.
Area residents opposed any plans to incinerate the weapons or move them offsite. The plan was to use technology that uses water and other liquids to neutralize the chemicals, instead of the less expensive incineration.
“This kind of stuff has been happening for 15 years,” said Ross Vincent, an activist opposed to incineration. “Sometimes it has taken acts of congress to nudge the Pentagon to move in directions the rest of us believe is the right way to go. So maybe that’s the way things will need to go again.”
Approximately 780,000 munitions containing 2,600 tons of mustard agent are stored at the Army depot near Pueblo. An international treaty called for destruction of the country’s stockpile of chemical weapons by 2012.
After cost overruns and delays in designing a plant to destroy the munitions at the Pueblo Depot, a groundbreaking ceremony was held last September.
Salazar and Allard said defense officials assured them in January that the munitions wouldn’t be moved from the depot, which they fear could create safety problems.
The Army, however, has said that it will study the possibility of shipping chemical weapons between storage and destruction sites, a move opponents said could mean tons of aging, lethal munitions being transported across the country.
“It is unconscionable to me that the Department of Defense wants to delay this project when the Congress has provided ample funding during the past two appropriations cycles,” Allard said.
Although funding for the project was omitted from the defense budget, Allard said he was able to get a total of $172 million added the last two fiscal years.
The work was expected to create more than 1,000 construction jobs over three years and as many as 800 high-paying jobs over 10 years.
The Army depot at Pueblo is one of two chemical-weapons sites that don’t have destruction systems in place yet. The additional costs of the war in Iraq has delayed funding of multimillion dollar destruction systems at Pueblo and the Blue Grass Army Depot near Richmond, KY.
Sites with disposal facilities constructed or in operation are located in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon and Utah.