RICHMOND, Ky. (AP) - Sen. Mitch McConnell was joined by local officials on Saturday to mark the beginning of construction of a new government plant that will destroy tons of deadly chemical weapons stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot.
The weapons, including mustard gas, sarin and VX, are leftovers from the Cold War and have been stored in bunkers at the depot in Richmond for more than six decades.
McConnell spoke Saturday at a reception in the Keen Johnson Building at Eastern Kentucky University to celebrate the groundbreaking of the $2 billion neutralization plant, The Richmond Register reported.
"This is the day we break ground on the disposal of heinous chemical weapons that have threatened this community for as long as they have been stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot," McConnell said. "It has been a hard road to get where we are today. We have had to push the Pentagon every step of the way."
Under the terms of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, arms stockpiled at eight sites across the country, including Richmond, must be destroyed by 2012. The deadliest materials at the depot are housed in earth-covered igloos surrounded by a double barbed-wire fence and acres of forest.
McConnell has made consistent efforts to ensure the Department of Defense funds the destruction mission. In the past two years, the Pentagon has frozen and diverted funds originally meant for destruction operations.
"People in the community alerted me to this, and we were able to stop that effort in its tracks through legislation," he said.
Several officials spoke at the morning event, including Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a watchdog organization credited with pushing for the neutralization of the weapons. The government originally planned to burn the weapons.
Williams said his wife first prompted him to oppose plans toburn the weapons.
"We had just heard that they were going to burn these weapons in the middle of our community and my wife looked at me and said, 'Someone has to do something,"' Williams said Saturday.
Site preparation for the facility will continue into 2007 as contractors erect a security fence around the site and construct a guard station, the facility's first building. At its peak, the plant is expected to employ about 900 workers. It will likely be the nation's final chemical weapons depository to begin disarming its stockpiles.