Munitions Site Closures to Cut 1,300 Jobs

Tooele County officials said the workers have known the end was coming since the international treaty known as the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention set an April 29, 2012, deadline for the munitions to be destroyed.

A safety vehicle passes a compound filled with 170-gallon containers of mustard and blister agent at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Tooele, Utah.TOOELE, Utah (AP) — After 15 years of incinerating the nation's largest single stockpile of chemical weapons, the U.S. Army's job in Utah's west desert is nearly done.

But closing down facilities responsible for storing and incinerating the weapons of mass destruction will mean the loss of more than 1,300 jobs over the next two years, the Deseret News reported (http://bit.ly/plnpN4).

Tooele County officials said the workers have known the end was coming since the international treaty known as the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention set an April 29, 2012, deadline for the munitions to be destroyed.

In May, the Army said it had destroyed 99.7 percent of its stockpile at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Stockton. Since 2006, it has destroyed 12.3 million pounds of mustard agent, a chemical weapon first used by Germany during World War I to disable opposing armies by causing severe, painful but nonfatal blistering.

Only small quantities of blister and nerve agents remain at the site.

When those munitions are incinerated by February at the nearby Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, it will be time to dismantle the entire site.

"First part will be to decontaminate the facility, removing unnecessary equipment," said Ted Ryba, the Army's site project manager. "Then we will get into a wholesale demolition phase, basically taking all of the building down to the ground and disposing of the rubble."

Ryba expects that to be done by September 2014.

The U.S. began destroying its chemical stockpiles, once at 31,500 tons, in the 1990s under the international treaty that required the destruction of all chemical weapons worldwide.

Alaine Grieser, public affairs spokeswoman for the Deseret Chemical Depot, said about 1,000 jobs will be phased out at the disposal facility and another 350 at the depot where the munitions had been stored.

At one time, the Tooele County depot housed more chemical weapons than any other storage site in the United States. Destruction of the munitions began at the facility in 1996 to comply with the treaty.

The Army has spent $2.1 billion to build and operate the incinerator plant since then.

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

"The benefit to the community is priceless," said Kari Sagers, Tooele County's emergency director.

But next year, the Army money will dry up, and local officials will have to find other revenue sources if they are to keep six emergency workers and maintain one of the most impressive emergency facilities in the state.

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

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Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com

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