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Obama budget puts more money into nuclear cleanup, not locks and dams

Mary Ann Thomas
| Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 1:11 a.m.

President Obama's fiscal year 2015 budget increases the budget for the cleanup of the nuclear waste dump in Parks and keeps current maintenance spending levels for the eight locks and dams on the Allegheny River.

The president's budget proposal includes $176 million in new federal funding for the Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District's civil works program.

The president's budget serves as a road map for federal spending. Congress draws up and passes the actual federal budget.

Up from $12 million in this year's budget, the 2015 budget proposal calls for $20 million for the cleanup of radioactive and toxic waste at the Shallow Land Waste Disposal Area in Parks. The waste is from the former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC), which had a former nuclear fuel plant in Apollo and plutonium processing facility in Parks.

The 2015 budget will pay for a new contractor to design the cleanup project, develop a work plan and build infrastructure at the site before digging resumes in 2016, according to Mike Helbling, Corps project manager.

The project's costs have skyrocketed as the Corps unearthed greater than expected quantities of complex nuclear material several years ago.

That and a contractor mishandling some nuclear wasted shut down the project that has been slow to gain traction ever since.

As the Corps estimates the project to cost between $250 million to $500 million, more money will be needed to finish the project in the estimated 10-year time frame for the cleanup.

“The real money isn't really spent until the contractor starts physical work on the site,” Helbling said. “We'll ask for an appropriate proportion of money to the amount of work the contractor believes they can do in a construction portion of any year.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who has pressed the Inspector General's office of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an in investigation into the cleanup, vowed that he will press for more money for the project.

“Sen. Casey believes that the appropriate federal agencies have an obligation to the residents of Armstrong County to get this right,” said John Rizzo, Casey's press secretary.

“As the budget process moves forward, Senator Casey will urge members of Congress to put in place the necessary resources to get this site cleaned up,” Rizzo said.

The Corps won't know future annual budget requests until a new contractor is on board, Helbling said.

The Corps will soon announce details of a public meeting in April or May on an amendment to its project planning document.

The agency is revisiting its options at the site including leaving the contamination in place or excavating the material and shipping it off site. The Corps urges the public to come out to that meeting to present testimony and written comments for the record.

Although a final decision has not been reached on plans for the waste dump, the Corps is proceeding with cleanup plans.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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