Area lawmakers urge help in getting USEC to build its new gas centrifuge plant in Paducah instead of Piketon, Ohio.
By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
USEC plans to build a new $1.5 billion plant that in 2010 or 2011 will replace the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which has been operating for more than 50 years. The company is reviewing incentive packages from Ohio and Kentucky and will decide on the location by the end of the year. The Paducah plant has about 1,200 employees.
"This plant has been here 50 years and is the signature industry of western Kentucky," state Rep. Charles Geveden, D-Wickliffe, said at a press conference in front of the plant in western McCracken County. "We don't want to lose it."
Company officials say their decision will be based on what is financially best for the company, not by pressure from politicians or anyone else. The uranium enrichment plant is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy and leased to USEC.
Geveden, however, thinks that political influence could be a major factor if the incentive packages are close to being equal. "I'm sure that President Bush knows some of the people on the USEC board and that he could try to convince them to build the plant in Kentucky," Geveden said. "I'm sure that if the decision was between building it in Ohio or Texas (Bush's home state), that he would be working to get it built in Texas."
Bush will be at Midwest Aviation at Barkley Regional Airport around 1 p.m. today to support U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher in his campaign for governor.
Earlier, Attorney General Ben Chandler, Fletcher's opponent, urged Republican officials to mix the politics of the visit with official business. He suggested that Bush should tour the plant and be asked to help not only in recruiting the new USEC plant, but also in continuing the cleanup of contamination of areas around the plant.
Bush, however, will not leave the airport during his 90-minute visit, and local officials will not be given an opportunity to meet with the president to discuss plant-related issues.
Geveden and other speakers also said that western Kentucky has not been neglected to the extent portrayed by Fletcher in television ads.
He said that in recent years, Paducah has received state funds to help build a performing arts center, build highways such as the four-laning of U.S. 60 and Ky. 80, and to start an engineering school. "Those were all done under Democratic leadership," Geveden said.
He also said that Gov. Paul Patton had the courage early in his administration to reform the workers' compensation insurance program, "which has caused economic development in western Kentucky."
Later, Geveden said he couldn't identify any specific economic projects that were the result of the reform, but said he's sure it kept some companies from moving out of Kentucky. "When I was campaigning in 1994, all I heard from small businesses is that the workers' comp rates were killing them financially," Geveden said. "You don't hear that anymore. I'm sure that if the Democrats hadn't fixed it, we would have lost some more jobs."
State Rep. Susan Westrom, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said she's outraged that Republicans try to paint all Democrats as being liberals who favor abortion, gun control and are not Christians.
She said being a Christian is just as important to Democrats as Republicans, and she said there are many pro-life Democrats who oppose abortion. Also, she noted that many Democrats in the region are strong advocates of owning guns.
Others who spoke at the press conference were state Reps. Frank Rasche, D-Paducah, and J.R. Gray, D-Benton, and McCracken County Judge-Executive Danny Orazine.
Orazine's remarks were less partisan than those of others. He said he hoped that no matter who was elected governor, that person would support the bipartisan effort to work with USEC to attract the new plant.