A USEC spokeswoman would not confirm where the $1.5 billion gas centrifuge plant would be built, but news conferences were planned today in Ohio.
By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org and By Shelley Street, The Paducah Sun
USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle late Sunday would not confirm where the plant would be built, but said she "can't dispute" the report from the Kentucky officials that the announcement would be made today. She said the news conference would be held "in the state receiving the plant." The Associated Press quoted unnamed sources as saying news conferences were planned in Columbus, Ohio, and Piketon.
Wes Irvin, communications director for Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, said the governor is not scheduled to attend a news conference with USEC officials today. Asked if Fletcher was invited to USEC's announcement, Irvin said, "Not to my knowledge." He said the governor is scheduled to be in Frankfort all day working on the state budget
Piketon has been considered the front-runner since last year when USEC picked it for a test centrifuge plan. USEC officials have said Piketon had an advantage because it had an existing building at its gaseous diffusion plant and it was outside of any major earthquake zones. Paducah is located on the edge of the New Madrid Fault.
Under the laws that govern the trading of stock, the company cannot disclose its siting decision to anyone before it does so at a public forum.
The plant will use a new technology called gas centrifuge. Construction is expected to begin in 2006 and be completed by 2010 after which the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant would be closed. It has about 1,200 employees.
The new plant will employ about 500 workers and be less costly to operate because it will use less electricity.
Irvin said the governor was notified Sunday of the pending announcement. In an interview Friday, Fletcher said he was aware that Ohio was the leading site for the plant. He said officials in his administration had been in contact with USEC since he took office Dec. 9, but felt there was little that he could do to change USEC's mind.
"Most of that deal and issues related to were settled before I got into office," Fletcher said in an interview on Friday. "I am willing to do whatever I can to preserve those jobs, but the barn door seems to have already been opened."
Some local officials contacted Sunday said that they had heard rumors the announcement might come today, but that they hadn't heard officially where the plant would be located. USEC originally had planned an announcement last month, but delayed it on at least two occasions for undisclosed reasons.
McCracken County Judge-Executive Danny Orazine said the delay gave western Kentucky politicians some hope that USEC was considering its decisions. However, he said it was hard for Kentucky to overcome the value of the building in Ohio and higher construction costs in Kentucky because of the earthquake zone.
"We're laying a lot of groundwork here in case we don't get the right announcement," Orazine said. "Years from now we're going to be in good shape for that transition because of the regional industrial park, the information age park and the IDEA park on Olivet Church Road.
"We're just going to have to work a lot harder between now and then on economic development," Orazine said. "That's really what the community has been doing for the past several years."
Paducah Mayor Bill Paxton also had not received any word of where the plant would be sited, although he said some people had told him the announcement would be today.
"This community has worked extremely hard to bring the new-generation centrifuge plant to Paducah," Paxton said. "The state has worked hard, and I believe we gave it our best shot.
"What we're going to do with economic development, whether the USEC centrifuge plant comes here or doesn't, is that we're going to continue to try to diversify our work force and bring in industry into this area so we will, regardless, not be as dependent on just USEC and that we'll have other type industries that will have good-paying jobs and be a benefit to this community."
Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Local 5-550 president Leon Owens said he had been out of town and had not heard that there would be an announcement. He said he would not be surprised if Ohio did receive the plant.
"I think anyone that was realistic would have expected that USEC would site the commercial facility in Ohio," he said. "This doesn't come as a surprise to me, and I don't think it should come as a surprise to any of the workers in Paducah based on (USEC Chief Executive Officer) Mr. (William ‘Nick’) Timbers' comments about the siting of the lead cascade and comments the state has made about trying to mitigate the seismic issues and the issues about the building built in Piketon 1985.’’
It is even more important to focus on diversifying the local work force now, he said.
"While there's nothing wrong with focusing on jobs that will pay $10 or $11 an hour, I think we need to focus on jobs with decent wages and benefits that will be here for a long period of time."
Ken Wheeler, president of the Greater Paducah Economic Development Council, said he did not feel comfortable talking about what would happen if USEC chose to locate in Ohio at the moment and that he preferred to wait and comment after an official announcement was made by USEC.