By Frank Lewis
The central theme of a press conference called by officials from Pike and Scioto counties dealing with the lack of funding for the Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) project at Piketon, Thursday was “disconnect.” Blaine Beekman, Pike County Commissioner, was the first to mention what he perceives as a disconnect between local delegations and the Department of Energy (DOE).
“We have a Congressional delegation and the senators in Ohio and we get great cooperation from them. We don’t have any problem there,” Beekman said. “We have a community, four counties have agreed upon the Fluor (B&W Portsmouth) final vision and basically that’s what we need to go forward with. The disconnect comes over in DOE and Environmental Management. DOE is a big organization. They’ve got a whole bunch of groups in there that are all trying to get money.”
Beekman said Environmental Management is over the cleanup of the Piketon site.
“In the last three years when we’ve gone over there, we used to have Ines Triay, who was great. She was EM-1 (top person in Environmental Management),” Beekman said. “They haven’t had an EM-1 in three years. So all you have is an acting EM-1. It’s like you have a total disconnect within DOE.”
Beekman said acting EMs are most likely not going to make any major decisions, which leaves the issue of continued funding for the project up in the air, and with a projected $110 million shortfall in 2015, which would lead to massive layoffs.
“I’ve sent a request in for a face-to-face meeting with (DOE Secretary) Ernie Moniz on, I think it was (July) the 29th,” Chairman of the Scioto County Commissioners Mike Crabtree said. “As of yet I haven’t gotten a response back. I did get an automated electronic response immediately acknowledging that they got the email, but to date I haven’t got a response one way or the other.”
Herman Potter, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 689 followed up on Crabtree’s statement.
“We have a person we have been talking to about a number of other issues at the DOE site and the individuals name is David Foster, special advisor to the secretary, and he confirmed that they received it and there were levels of DOE that were looking into it,” Potter said. “He suggested that I get back with him if we haven’t heard anything back by the end of the week. So at least we know it’s not a glitch in the email system, that they have seen it.”
Crabtree said the D&D project at Piketon is probably the biggest contract in the United States, and the chief of staff of the DOE has never been on the Piketon site.
“It’s unfortunate that the federal government, when it’s in their best interest, they don’t have any trouble coming up with funding for their projects, but when it’s dealing with something they have the responsibility for - they have polluted our surface water here in southern Ohio for years - and now it’s time to do what they promised to do - what we expect them to do - and everybody plays dumb when you try to deal with them in Washington (DC),” Crabtree said. “They have a responsibility to the community. They have a responsibility to all of southern Ohio to clean up what they messed up and for some reason nobody seems to know who has the authority or no one wants to take the authority to do what they know is the right thing to do for this area.”
Potter said the DOE has certain clear obligations to the working people at the site including their obligation when it comes to workers’ benefits. He also said the Piketon site is one of the most likely sites to get cleaned up because it’s not as contaminated as some other sites. Potter said the cleanup would result in reindustializing that property and bring more jobs to the area.
“They have that obligation. That’s part of their mission,” Potter said. “That’s what they’ve told us. However, it’s going to take an investment, an appropriation of some money. Right now it just seems like the DOE wants to make everybody happy. Instead of being good stewards of the mission they have become political in their sorting out of the money.”
Potter said the government has been able to find money to take care of immigrants coming into the country, but unable to come up with the money to meet their obligations to the clean up of the Piketon site. Crabtree referred to the lack of response from the DOE as a “code of silence.”
Pike County Commissioner Teddy West said he remembers when former operators, specifically Martin Marietta and Goodyear, set aside money for the eventual cleanup of the site and that someone needs to investigate to find out where that money went.
“It was made to be put back into cleanup. That might be a question to ask the secretary,” West said. “Right now I think it’s in the hands of the secretary.”
The project is funded 70 percent by the sale of uranium on the open market, and the other 30 percent of the funding comes from appropriations.
In the end, West said, with the price of uranium falling, and to avoid going through this process repeatedly in the future, Congress should appropriate $500 million and fund the entire project.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 1928, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.