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Chemical weapons incinerating plant in Tooele set to close

By John Hollenhorst   |  Posted Sep 1st, 2011 @ 7:00pm


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TOOELE -- It all began in bitter controversy more than two decades ago. The ambitious plan was to incinerate the nation's stockpile of chemical weapons of mass destruction.

The biggest chunk of that stockpile was in Utah. And now it's almost entirely burned up.

Mission nearly accomplished. After 15 years of incinerating chemical weapons, the Army's job is nearly done.

But that means big challenges for the Army's neighbors in Tooele County.

The Army built a huge incinerator plant in the mid-90's and has operated it for 15 years. The total cost so far is $2.1 billion. They've burned up tens of thousands of chemical weapons, and they expect to finish by February, after which the plant will be decomissioned.

"First part will be to decontaminate the facility, removing unnecessary equipment," said Ted Ryba, site project manager for the U.S. Army. "Then we will get into a wholesale demolition phase, basically taking all of the building down to the ground and disposing of the rubble. We're expecting that to be done in September of 2014 time frame."

In Tooele County, however, it creates a problem. It means the loss of federal funds and a lot of jobs.

"Between now and when we're done we'll be eliminating approximately 1300 jobs at the Demil site," Ryba said.

Tooele County also has to adjust to a reduced cash flow.

This big new county emergency operations center was partly funded by $2 million of Army funds. In all, the Army has pumped $78 million into emergency preparations that includes a network of sirens and public address towers throughout the county.

"The benefit to the community is priceless. You can't put a price on it," said Kari Sagers, Tooele County Emergency director.

Next year, the Army money will dry up. If the county is going to keep six emergency personnel and maintain one of the most impressive emergency facilities in the state, local officials will have to find other sources of funds.

"They're committed to trying to do that. But, no, there's not been a 'these jobs are secure' decision. So it's a question," Sagers said.

The 1300 incinerator workers have known the end was coming for years. Many have been offered jobs out of state. But for many others, the future is uncertain.

Email: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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