UPDATE: Hundreds Fill Meeting About Layoffs at Piketon Plant

By: Dale Johnson, The Associated Press Email
By: Dale Johnson, The Associated Press Email

UPDATE 7/24/14 @ 11:30 p.m.
WAVERLY, Ohio (WSAZ) -- Hundreds of people filled the Pike County Government Center Thursday evening to talk about funding cuts for a cleanup project in Piketon.

Nearly 700 people have been warned that they may lose their jobs as soon as October at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Thursday evening, representatives with the decontamination and decommission project, congressional members and representatives with local unions and governments sat on panels to answer questions about funding issues to an audience filled with people wanting answers.

Dennis Carr, a representative for FLUOR-B&W Portsmouth, says since fiscal year 2012 funding has been enough, but funding for fiscal year 2015 is the issue.

"This year, if I look at my operating funds, the funds that fuel this project and most of the people in this room.That's $347 million dollars worth of operating dollars," says Carr. "Next year, effectively what I have is approximately 240 million dollars."

Carr says with a cut of over 110 million dollars, he cannot sustain the momentum he has on the project, resulting in the loss of 675 jobs.

The plant produced enriched Uranium until 2001. The Department of Energy started overseeing cleanup at the Piketon plant in 2005, but in 2009 they made a commitment to the community to accelerate cleanup, an effort to jumpstart local economy and create jobs.

Now, about 1,900 people have jobs to decontaminate and decommission the plant, preparing it to be re-industrialized.

U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman joined multiple Members of Congress Thursday and wrote a letter to the Department of Energy, voicing their concerns about the layoffs. Layoffs that they say will cause a significant blow to southern Ohio.

"The Department of Energy has worked collaboratively with the Piketon community to develop an aggressive cleanup strategy that would see the project completed by 2024, improve the environmental footprint of the site, prepare the site for re-industrialization, save taxpayer dollars. and maximize employment levels," the delegation wrote. "But last week's announcement puts the Department of Energy's previous efforts in jeopardy. If the Department of Energy fully exercises the layoffs, it would mean a loss of one-third of the current workforce. This would significantly delay the completion date for the project which would inflate the project's cost and force taxpayers to pay billions more to complete the same amount of work."

The federal government and the contractor leading the company say the layoffs may be necessary because uranium transfers fund much of the project, but uranium prices have dropped.

For some people, the loss of this job will mean moving to another community.

"Well, there's not that many jobs here of that caliber that we could go to," says Derrick Lattimore. "We'd have to search out of town to find work and there's plenty of people out of work already."

Lattimore is married and a father of four boys. He has worked at the plant for 24 years and says without this job he will have to move, and the community is going to suffer.

"I'd say it's going to cripple the community," says Lattimore. "As far as the tax base, property taxes. There will be a lot of home foreclosures."

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Local officials are hosting a public meeting to discuss warnings about 675 potential layoffs for workers decontaminating and decommissioning a Cold War-era uranium plant in southern Ohio.

Layoffs are expected to begin in October for some workers cleaning up the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, roughly 60 miles south of Columbus. It produced enriched uranium until 2001.

Pike County commissioners say representatives from the project, the unions, local government and congressional offices were invited to discuss the situation at a public meeting Thursday night in Waverly.

The federal government and the contractor leading the cleanup say the layoffs may be necessary because uranium transfers fund much of the project but uranium prices have dropped.

They say the next proposed federal budget appropriation wouldn't make up for that decrease.

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