The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, January 22, 2004

Progress could be derailed by energy funding cuts
Money for PACRO has sunk from $8 million to $300,000 and may drop again to $150,000 next fiscal year.

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

Regional industrial park leaders are worried about losing vital funding if Congress stops approving Energy Department money to help communities crippled by nuclear plant closings and layoffs.

The Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization could see its already dwindling funding cut in half from about $300,000 to $150,000 next fiscal year. After that, there are indications "of sunsetting" the program that finances the Paducah group and others like it nationwide, PACRO Director John Anderson said.

He learned of the development last week at a Florida meeting of reuse organization directors. PACRO has been a conduit for about $2.5 million in Energy Department money toward the park in northern Graves County.

"It would be very harmful to our program if PACRO stopped getting funded," said Bill Beasley, park general manager. He is still waiting for $5 million from the state to help buy about 1,000 acres off Ky. 849 at Folsomdale for the first phase of the park. The land is optioned, and closing will start next week using about $1 million in Energy Department money.

Anderson said he expects to know more about the future of the program during a conference call tentatively set for Feb. 14. "We've got a couple of years. That's the good thing," he said. "Our goal is to become self-sufficient by that time."

Anderson said Rep. Ed Whitfield and Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning have worked hard to keep the program funded. Although he declined to speculate on the reason for cutting the money, others in Congress have pushed for several years to do away with the program amid budget constraints.

PACRO officials intend to ask the Kentucky delegation for enough money through DOE or other sources to survive for two to five years. That should afford enough time to secure work with Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant environmental companies, Anderson said.

Among other things, PACRO helps steer displaced plant workers into comparable cleanup jobs. Anderson said the role is even more critical after last week's announcement that USEC Inc. will build a gas centrifuge plant in Piketon, Ohio, rather than Paducah. The outdated Paducah plant employs nearly 1,300.

PACRO also is pursuing a project with Los Angeles-based ToxCo to recycle abandoned fluorine cells at the Paducah plant. It wants to work with new plant cleanup and infrastructure contractors and with Uranium Disposition Services, which will build a factory to recycle nearly 40,000 cylinders of depleted uranium hexafluoride, Anderson said.

His group also has used DOE money to construct ready-for-occupancy buildings in several county industrial parks. But annual Energy Department funding of reuse organizations nationwide has been cut from $40 million to $14.5 million since 1999, and PACRO's share has sunk from $8 million to $300,000.

On Wednesday, Anderson briefed the PACRO finance committee on the developments. The Purchase Area Regional Industrial Park Authority met immediately afterward in the same room at the Paducah Information Age Park Resource Center.

Last week, Economic Development Secretary Gene Strong said that to get $5 million in state bond money for the park, developers would have to provide a budget for the first phase of the work and a funding source for the balance of the cost. Beasley repeated at Wednesday's meeting that he did that a month ago.

"All we're waiting for is for the secretary and his staff to decide when to disperse the funds," he said.

A package sent Dec. 18 to Strong’s staff included an engineering master plan, a first-phase budget of $7.5 million and funding sources — $2.5 million in federal money, plus in-kind commitments from various utilities. All the federal money has been received except $1 million from the new Delta Regional Authority, which is awaiting Co-chairman Pete Johnson's signature, Beasley said.

The park authority plans to buy and develop at least 2,000 acres suitable for a large industry. Beasley said he expects to start advertising for bids in March for an engineering study for the second 1,000 acres, south of Ky. 849.