PIKETON, Ohio – Looming thunderstorms and intermittent showers failed to dampen spirits late last week as EM Assistant Secretary Anne White signed documents during a ceremony at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant marking the site’s first land transfer to the local community.
In her first visit to the Portsmouth Site as Assistant Secretary, White was joined by other federal officials, state and local leaders, and others to commemorate the transfer of 80 acres of site property to the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI). SODI is the community reuse organization representing the four-county area around the former plant.
“Transferring excess property for reuse is an important part of the EM mission, and an example of DOE’s commitment to our cleanup communities,” White told the gathered stakeholders. “As I look over at the piece of land that’s being conveyed, I very much look forward to seeing the community benefit from this property.”
White also visited EM’s Consolidated Business Center (EMCBC) in Cincinnati, where she had in-depth discussions with the center’s leadership and talked with employees over lunch.
The Portsmouth Site parcel conveyed to SODI is on the reservation’s southeast portion within Perimeter Road. SODI requested the land in 2015 because of its development potential. EM’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office (PPPO), with support from EMCBC, conducted an environmental assessment to analyze potential environmental impacts of a transfer. EMCBC also supported efforts to complete the transfer. EMCBC Director Jeffrey Kash Grimes attended the land transfer ceremony.
EM provided the environmental clearance for the transfer in 2017 following a public review process and consultation with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA).
For SODI Executive Director Steve Shepherd, the transfer is a “game changer” for the organization’s ability to attract job creators to the site, and a milestone 20 years in the making.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, this day has finally come,” Shepherd said during his remarks. “We hope that this will be the start of many more great days for our site.”
White and PPPO Manager Robert Edwards thanked SODI for its cooperation throughout the transfer process, and acknowledged federal, state, and local leaders who helped make it possible, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, Rep. Brad Wenstrup and the rest of the Ohio congressional delegation, and the Ohio EPA for its due diligence on behalf of the state.
In 2010, Ohio University began studying the community’s preferences for site reuse among residents of the SODI member counties of Pike, Scioto, Ross, and Jackson. That research has identified a consensus.
“Working with SODI and Ohio University, we have aligned the cleanup project with the community’s overwhelming request to see land turned over for reindustrialization,” said Edwards. “We’re pleased to see this property returned to the community and the tax rolls, and we look forward to building on the current momentum.”
White later toured the site, including the X-326 Uranium Enrichment Process Building, now undergoing final deactivation; and the On-Site Waste Disposal Facility under construction.
“Great site,” she remarked afterward. “The workers here have a fabulous work ethic, and the tour was professional, informative, and very helpful.”
The Cold War-era plant, which enriched uranium for national defense purposes beginning in 1954 and later for fuel for commercial nuclear power generation, has been undergoing extensive environmental cleanup since 1989. The plant ceased uranium enrichment in 2001, and the current deactivation and decommissioning (D&D) project commenced in 2011.
Field Note from Assistant Secretary White
It was a pleasure to cap off my week at the EMCBC and the Portsmouth Site.
I want to thank Kash Grimes, Kim Johnson, and the staff at the EMCBC for the in-depth discussions on how EM may be able to further improve its acquisition and contracting practices. With the vast majority of EM’s work performed by the best of private industry, how we compete and manage our contracts plays a vital role in our overall success. We discussed at length our end-state contracting initiatives and I was pleased to see the level of enthusiasm for change exhibited by the group in Cincinnati.
I appreciated the invitation from SODI’s Kevin Shoemaker to speak at the Portsmouth land transfer event. Kevin is one heck of a speaker and was a terrific “Master of Ceremonies” — the event went perfectly. The transfer of DOE land is just one innovation EM is looking at as we work toward creating a culture of completion and closure at our sites in rural areas that have served our country so well for so long. We need to show the sites and the communities that surround them that there are significant opportunities for an enduring mission beyond final closure. We owe it to these communities to show them the art of the possible for these locations.
It was gratifying to see a number of community leaders present as Steve Shepherd of SODI, Robert Edwards, and I joined in the transfer signing. I spoke to a number of people from the community and heard their thoughts on the site cleanup during SODI’s follow-on reception.
With this transfer complete and others to consider, I look forward to seeing SODI’s economic development plans coming to fruition. There are a number of areas within the Department that may already have in place existing programs that may be helpful in these efforts and I’m looking forward to exploring the myriad opportunities to develop and support the communities near our sites for the long run.
During my time at the Portsmouth Site, I had a great roundtable with the federal staff and we discussed both what the land transfer may mean to an enduring mission at Portsmouth and also end-state contracting and shaping the federal oversight model within that context. We also discussed what I believe the role of headquarters should be with the sites, and that is to empower them to best achieve progress. Around that issue, Dee Powell was, I’m told, uncharacteristically quiet but she did have her boss chime in on an issue or two where headquarters could do better in its role of empowering the sites. That kind of input is greatly appreciated as I continue to listen, learn, and shape the EM program to manage the contract, not the contractor.
Being lucky to have dodged most of the rain, I was also able to tour the site to see the cleanup progress. Robert and PPPO Deputy Manager and Portsmouth Site Lead Joel Bradburne, along with Bob Smith who heads up D&D contractor Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth, led the tour.
I saw the former K-25 Building at Oak Ridge before it was demolished, and I have visited the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The sheer massiveness of those former enrichment buildings is always awe-inspiring. I was told the Portsmouth plant was built in just four years. That kind of “can-do” spirit is certainly something to be admired and sought after even today. That pride and enjoyment of work is still present and clear from the smiles on the workers’ faces as they were escorting me into the building. You know who you are.
The tour focused on the most significant projects. At the X-326 Building, the project team of Jud Lilly, Bobby Leonard, and Gary Hazelwood briefed me on the upcoming completion of deactivation and near-term demolition of the 2.5-million-square-foot facility. Bob Chancey and Scott Raish talked about characterizing the piping through the nondestructive assay process and how they can be cost efficient in the process. I couldn’t help but get a little technical and had fun chatting health physics stuff with the guys.
Johnny Reising introduced me to J.D. Chiou and Chris McDay at the On-Site Waste Disposal Facility construction site. Progress continues to be made to prepare for the first demolition waste from the X-326 Building.
I want to again thank my hosts and all of our hardworking professionals who truly care about safety and completing our mission. I also appreciate the strong partnerships they have built with the local community. It’s clear this is a responsibility everyone takes seriously at the Portsmouth Site.
-Anne Marie White