The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Ending Bechtel Jacobs contract
Other changes include taking oversight of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant away from Oak Ridge and using an accelerated cleanup plan.

By Bill Bartleman

The U.S. Department of Energy's top environmental official says there should be noticeable progress in the cleanup of contamination at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant because of changes that will be implemented over the next nine months.

A new initiative announced Tuesday by Assistant Secretary of Environment Management Jessie Roberson is to end the cleanup oversight contract with Bechtel Jacobs Co. and divide the work into two contracts.

One contract will be for cleanup and remediation, and the other will be for infrastructure and maintenance of contamination to keep the plant and surrounding area safe, Roberson said in a telephone interview from Washington. She said dividing the work will place more attention and funds on actual cleanup.

That change, along with removing the Paducah plant from the oversight of the Oak Ridge, Tenn., operations office and the implementation of an accelerated cleanup plan, will eliminate hurdles that in the past have slowed cleanup, she said.

"These changes together will make cleanup a lot more streamlined and a lot more visible," Roberson said. "It will put us in the right direction."

Cleanup at DOE sites in Paducah and Piketon, Ohio, will be managed by an office in Lexington that will open this summer. Roberson said the Lexington manager will answer directly to DOE headquarters in Washington, eliminating two layers of bureaucracy that exist under the Oak Ridge office. She said it also "increases accountability of our field management."

The two facilities will no longer have local site managers. Instead, William Murphie will serve as manager for both sites and work out of Lexington, a central location for the two plants.

U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, who pushed for the change in oversight, said: "Of all the funds earmarked for Paducah, the Oak Ridge office skimmed 5 to 7 percent off the top for administrative costs. Now those funds will go for real cleanup work." Congress has been allocating about $140 million a year for cleanup in Paducah.

Roberson said details of how Bechtel Jacobs' work will be divided are still being worked out. She said bids for the work will be solicited this summer and awarded by March, when a six-month extension of Bechtel Jacobs' five-year contract will expire.

"This should increase the competitiveness for the work by giving more companies an opportunity to bid," Roberson said. "It will allow for some smaller contractors to compete for the work."

Under terms of the cleanup contract awarded in 1998, Bechtel Jacobs was required to subcontract all of the work. DOE paid Bechtel Jacobs for the cleanup work plus a percentage for doing the oversight.

Under terms of the new contracts, Roberson said the two contractors will have the freedom to decide the most efficient way of doing the cleanup. They could do the work with their own employees, subcontract it to other firms or a combination.

Roberson said she hopes an agreement can be reached with state and federal environmental regulators on an accelerated cleanup plan. DOE is doing cleanup in 23 states, and Kentucky is the only state that has not signed an accelerated cleanup plan.

Roberson said problems unique to Kentucky have delayed the signing of an agreement. She identified the main problem as a lack of trust between DOE and regulators. She said DOE isn't trying to reduce the scope of work that needs to be done and is trying to reduce and eliminate the bureaucracy and paperwork that has delayed work.

State regulators and Roberson said major progress was made last month when DOE and regulators set a September deadline for settling remaining issues. Officials on both sides say they are confident the deadline can be met.