From: John Norton, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.
Published January 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Army to Study Possibility of Weapons Move, after Assuring it Wouldn't Happen

Jan. 20—Despite assurances given Tuesday to Colorado's U.S. senators that chemical weapons would not be moved out of the Pueblo Chemical Depot, the Army is going ahead with plans to study the possibility of shipping chemical weapons around the country and has halted all construction work on a disposal facility here.





A press release issued Wednesday by the Army's Chemical Materials Agency stated that it had been told by the Department of Defense to study relocation and "other alternatives" that would allow the United States to meet its treaty deadline for disposal of weapons by 2012.





Transporting chemical weapons is forbidden by federal law without an executive order from the president, and likely would face opposition from any states those weapons might cross.





The most likely scenario for Pueblo's 2,600 tons of mustard agent shells and mortar rounds would be to send them to an incinerator at the Tooele Army Depot in Utah.





A spokeswoman for Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said Wednesday, "The Pentagon is wasting money on the study since they assured the senator unequivocally that they weren't going to move it."





On Tuesday, Allard and his freshman colleague, Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., met with two Defense Department officials, who assured the senators that the Pueblo weapons were not going to be moved and that there were no plans to switch from the planned water neutralization method to incineration, which was opposed by many in the community.





Allard's staffer said the senator expects a memorandum by Friday from the officials that will clarify the Defense Department's position.





Regardless of what the memo might say, the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternative agency overseeing the Pueblo project has stopped all bidding by prime contractor Bechtel for Phase 1 construction work for at least 90 days while the Army study is done.





ACWA spokeswoman Kathy DeWeese said that the freeze on construction contracts would not affect current staffing at the Pueblo Chemical Depot or work on design packages for Phase 2 of the program or preparation for the next step in permitting by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.





Design work on Phase 3, the construction of the actually destruction facility, was stopped by the Pentagon last fall.





Mike Parker, director of the ACWA program and the Army's Chemical Materials Agency, said in Wednesday's press release, "We have just received our directions from DOD on the matter."





He added, "It is premature at this time to comment on the content of the evaluations. The Army has just received the direction from the office of the Secretary of Defense and is currently in the process of formulating its alternative evaluation strategy. We have a proven track record in safely storing and eliminating chemical materiel, while protecting workers, the public and the environment. This will be a cornerstone of any alternatives we consider."





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© 2005, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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