The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

DOE plant site gets new cleanup firm

Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure and Portage Environmental will replace Bechtel Jacobs at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant

Joe Walker

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

After two years of procurement delays, the Department of Energy has awarded a $191.6 million contract to a firm founded by Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure and Portage Environmental to do cleanup work at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

The contract, to Paducah Remediation Services LLC, will run through Sept. 30, 2009. Following a transition period, the company will replace longtime cleanup contractor Bechtel Jacobs, whose contract expires April 23, DOE said Tuesday.

Bechtel Jacobs employs 157 people out of its Kevil offices and oversees another 400 subcontract workers with various cleanup firms. It was not immediately clear if all the Bechtel Jacobs workers will move to Paducah Remediation Services, although that largely was the case when Bechtel Jacobs took over for Lockheed Martin Energy Systems in 1998.

Repeated attempts to reach senior executives of Shaw, based in Baton Rouge, La., and Portage, based in Espanola, N.M., were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Portage´s Web site says Michael Spry, majority owner and president, is a Mississippi Band member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. He grew up on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota.

Portage, classified as a small, disadvantaged business, is the managing partner of the joint venture with Shaw, according to DOE.

Both Portage and Shaw list extensive cleanup experience, notably with closed DOE plants such as in Hanford, Wash., and Fernald, Ohio. Shaw, a subsidiary of Shaw Group, has more than $1 billion in annual business.

DOE announced two years ago that Bechtel Jacobs would be replaced with a smaller firm to try to be more cost-efficient. After repeated delays, North Wind Paducah Cleanup Co. was named the successor last January, and a separate firm was named to head cleanup work at the closed uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio.

But protests came from other bidders, including Portage and Shaw, forcing DOE to rebid. Bechtel Jacobs´ contract was repeatedly extended without explanation as procurement again dragged on.

Tuesday´s announcement took plant union officials by surprise. Bill Cossler, president of United Steelworkers 5-550, said he wasn´t aware that a successor had been named.

“We´re glad that at long last they´ve named a new contractor and we look forward to working with the new company,’ he said.

Nearly 200 union members do environmental work with Bechtel Jacobs and subcontract firms. Cossler said the union contract has a transition clause for hourly cleanup workers.

The Kentucky congressional delegation has been scrutinizing the elongated Paducah contract situation. In the fall, Congress passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, to protect the pensions and retiree medical benefits of displaced uranium enrichment workers who find jobs with DOE cleanup firms.

Contract issues are among those slated for a field hearing at 10 a.m. Jan. 19 at Paducah City Hall by Whitfield, a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. He said he will conduct the hearing through his role as chairman of the committee´s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman called him Tuesday with the contract news.

“The contract has been awarded, and now we just need to make sure this work gets done,’ Bunning said. “Those living and working in and around Paducah deserve a better environment for their families.’

Bunning said that if expectations are not met, he would continue using his influence as a member of the Senate Energy Committee “to bring accountability to the process and the contract.’

The committee has oversight over DOE, including Paducah plant cleanup. Bunning has held committee field hearings on plant matters.

John Anderson, director of the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization, said he was “extremely pleased’ that a new contractor was finally named. “For the community´s sake I think it´s time to more forward and have something for the workers to be able to plan on,’ he said.

However, Anderson pointed out that the contract award is subject to a grace period to allow other bidders to protest.

Anderson´s economic development group wants the Energy Department to relax a ban on the commercial use of low-level radioactive scrap metal at the plant if it can be fully decontaminated. DOE included language about the scrap metal in rebidding the work.

Paducah Remediation Services will oversee cleanup, including a $40 million project to extract soil contamination around a plant cleaning building that is the leading source of billions of gallons of groundwater pollution. Construction will begin next year, and by 2007 workers are expected to begin heating the ground far below the surface and vacuum out vaporized contamination for carbon-filter treatment.

Two pump-and-treat systems on the northeastern and northwestern plant boundaries remove about 16 million gallons of contaminated groundwater a month, and have cleaned up more than a billion gallons. But the systems only remove the highest concentrations of the contamination, which covers much of the area from the plant to the Ohio River.

Other responsibilities of the new contractor include cleaning up contaminated soil, removing old waste, cleaning up and tearing down closed contaminated buildings and operating plant waste-storage facilities.