By Frank Lewis
PIKETON — U.S. Senator Rob Portman — along with Department of Energy Acting Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management Mark Whitney and Senior Advisor to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, David Foster — spent the day in Piketon Thursday meeting with officials of Fluor B&W Portsmouth and others about the company’s need for an appropriation of $110 million to keep the Decommissioning and Decontaminating (D&D) project moving forward.
Portman met with officials of the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI) and talked about the importance of their work at the site as well.
“I always like meeting with SODI,” Portman said. “They’re a really responsible group. I told the DOE guys they’re really lucky to have this kind of community support. That’s not true at every site.”
Portman talked about SODI’s role in the D & D project and the point of Thursday’s meeting.
“What they have focused on today is how do you keep the workforce there - get this thing cleaned up - but also how do you redevelop the site for commercial purposes,” Portman said. “They do get some of their funding out of the site now. We want them to get even more funding out of this source which is the recycling dollars. When something is recycles they get half of it for grants; half of it goes back into the cleanup.”
Portman said the group also had a meeting at the plant Thursday morning.
“I asked the Secretary (of Energy Ernest Moniz) to come as I have before, including at his confirmation hearings,” Portman said. “And he says he does want to come out but he wasn’t able to come out this week, but he did send the acting assistant secretary for all cleanup efforts.”
Portman said he believes it was helpful for the DOE officials to come to the Piketon site for the first time.
“I think he’s (Whitney) now going to get a first hand view of the site. But he also got to hear from me and Mike Crabtree, commissioner of Scioto County was there and all three commissioners from Pike County (Blaine Beekman, Teddy West and Harry Rider) were there and Teddy West also came to this meeting as a member of SODI.”
The $110 million shortfall for 2015 came about when uranium sales fell and DOE didn’t appropriate the funds necessary. The project is funded 70 percent by uranium sales and 30 percent through appropriations. Portman told the Daily Times, not only is the price of uranium dropping, but the supply could run out completely by anywhere from 2016 to 2019, agreeing with the Pike County Commissioners the entire project should be funded through appropriations.
“I expressed my frustration with them because we are finding that the appropriations problem is, in part, a lack of communication from DOE,” Portman said. “I got a commitment from them today that they want to sit down with me as soon as we get back in September, and I know that other members of the delegation will want to be there too, including (U.S. Senator) Sherrod Brown and (U.S. Representatives) Bill Johnson and Brad Wenstrup and others who care about this site. We’ve got to do a better job of getting DOE to put forward a plan at the site because that’s what we hear from the appropriations committee when we go for more funding.”
The big fear among political leaders and citizens of southern Ohio is the possible layoffs.
“We’re going to have to work with DOE and work with the appropriators to try to get more money into the project in order to avoid these layoffs,” Portman said. “They didn’t announce anything today. We still don’t know exactly what they’re going to announce but we know that there will be WARN notices that are going to go out. I think there’s 700 people involved in that. They indicated to us today that it wouldn’t be 700 layoffs. Even in the worst case scenario the net would be something more like 400. That’s still really hard to deal with because there’s 1,900 people total and you’re looking at taking some of the most experienced people out of the mix, a mistake in my view. Instead we’re saying to them let’s continue the accelerated cleanup. That’s what the commitment was.”
Portman said the government needs to know that by continuing the project as planned by funding it completely it will save taxpayers billions of dollars because more and more money is spent each year just in maintaining the site and not on the actual cleanup.
“The federal government has a commitment here and DOE has made a solid commitment to clean it up, so let’s get on with it,” Portman said.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 1928, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.