Army report looks at possible new uses for incinerator
by Laura Camper
Sep 26, 2011 | 5045 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston's chemical weapon's incinerator, shortly after completing its mission in 2011. (File photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
Anniston's chemical weapon's incinerator, shortly after completing its mission in 2011. (File photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
A report released by the U.S. Army this month identifies six possible uses for the chemical weapons incinerator now that it has finished its mission of destroying the chemical weapons stored in Anniston.

The potential uses included Army equipment repair, hazardous waste disposal, a homeland security research center, demilitarization of conventional weapons and commercial uses such as manufacturing high-value-added chemicals, and electronic equipment recycling.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby received a copy of the report on Sept. 15, according to one of his senior aides, who gave the report to The Anniston Star.

Using the incinerator to destroy conventional munitions is the option getting the most serious consideration, said the aide, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified by name. Even that option, the aide said, faces hurdles in that it may not be sufficiently cost-effective.

The incinerator is slated for dismantling by federal law, but the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, which saw this day coming, requested the report from the U.S. Senate nearly three years ago, said Sherri Sumners, president of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce.

"We felt like it was a matter of due diligence," Sumners said. "Before you tear down a billion-dollar facility, you ought to look if there are some clean, safe, practical uses that we could use to keep people working."

Shelby, a Republican senator from Tuscaloosa, requested also a report from the

U.S. Army. The first phase of the report was completed in June 2010. The report noted the easiest and quickest way to get the incinerator running after the last chemical

weapon was destroyed would be to keep it in use by the government, Sumners said.

The second phase of the report states that the Army has invested $15.6 billion in developing, constructing and operating the chemical weapon incinerator.

"(That) cost can be leveraged to process missiles in a safe, cost effective and environmentally compliant manner," the report states.

The report mentioned the possible use of the incinerator to destroy old M26 Multiple Rocket Launch System projectiles. Forty-seven percent of the old M26 stockpile is stored at Anniston Army Depot.

Some of the advantages listed in the report include the trained work-force, the relative ease of transitioning the plant from an environmental and technological standpoint.

Some disadvantages include the cost of transitioning the facility, increased transportation of munitions on public highways to Anniston would have to meet federal regulations.

Anniston would also face potential competition from existing facilities that are already demilitarizing conventional weapons. So, Anniston would be trying to add itself to that list rather than being in a unique niche as it was with the chemical weapon incineration, said Shelby¹s aide.

Shelby¹s office is meeting with Army representatives next week to discuss the options presented in the report, his aide said. Life after chemical weapon incineration is a question that is weighing heavily on the minds of Anniston¹s City Council members, they will be discussing it at their meeting today.

City Planner Toby Bennington said the city will certainly be affected if the incinerator is dismantled as specified under federal law.

"I think it would be a grand opportunity for a city-county partnership," Bennington said. ³I would think that¹s the way that it needs to be approached."

But Sumners said until there are more answers, it may be useless to offer up more suggestions.

"We're kind of in a holding pattern until we see that study," Sumners said.

"I mean we could sit around a table and think of things that we think might work, but we're not technical experts and that¹s why this study was commissioned."

The community has to be on board with whatever happens out at the incinerator, Sumners added.

"We have to look at what really is something that the community would be comfortable with," Sumners said.

But that is only part of the difficulty of getting something into the facility.

Federal law requires the facility be dismantled once it is finished and cleaned. That law would have to be changed, but before that is even considered, there are steps that need to happen.

Gov. Robert Bentley would have to request the incinerator be repurposed. Jennifer Ardis, Bentley¹s press secretary, said the governor¹s office is in talks with Army officials about the options available for the facility, but it's too early for a formal request to be made. If Bentley does make a request, the Army also would have to agree to reuse the incinerator. Then Congress would have to change the federal law requiring the dismantling of the incinerator and identify and allocate any funding needed to repurpose the facility.

Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.

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