“We all knew everybody was planning to work themselves out of a job by making the community safer,” said Deborah Gaither, director of the Talladega County Emergency Management Agency.
Michael Abrams, public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency, said Wednesday the last of the chemical munitions stockpile stored at the Anniston Army Depot should be destroyed by “a year from tomorrow.”
“That is a very optimistic prediction,” Abrams said. “We could slow down or stop if we have any questions about what we’re doing. … The end of the operation is only a prediction and is subject to change, but … August of next year is a very real possibility.”
He said all nerve agents were destroyed, and the facility is now destroying mustard blister munitions.
“The last nerve agent was destroyed Christmas Eve 2008,” Abrams said.
Local EMA officials were recently informed the destruction of all munitions in Anniston could be completed by next August.
Officials said during a span of almost two decades, regional EMAs received millions of dollars through the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program. The program was set up to help prepare a six-county region that surrounds the facility for a possible chemical weapons catastrophe.
Abrams said since disposal of chemical weapons began in August 2003, Westinghouse Anniston has safely disposed of more than 536,562 chemical rockets, artillery shells and landmines.
“We have been blessed with millions in funding for equipment and for emergency preparedness (through the CSEPP program),” said Ellen Haynes, director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency.
She said on average, the St. Clair County EMA received about $700,000 annually through CSEPP and has received more than $1 million some years.
“We received funds based on the services needed,” Haynes said.
She said local EMAs are in budget meetings this week with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help determine funding needs for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 31, 2011.
“They asked us to prepare an 18-month budget, too,” Haynes said.
Gaither said the Talladega EMA is requesting $7 million through the CSEPP program for next fiscal year.
But once all chemical agents are destroyed in Anniston, the stream of federal funds will stop flowing to the six-county CSEPP region.
Abrams said the six regional EMAs will continue to receive funding through the CSEPP program for six months after the last munitions are disposed of at the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility.
Gaither said she fears some staff members could lose their jobs when CSEPP funding is cut.
She said the Talladega EMA will look for additional funding elsewhere, such as new grants.
“We’re going to have to adapt and try to find different funding,” Gaither said. “We will adapt and do what we need to do to keep our Talladega citizens safe.”
Like the Talladega EMA, CSEPP money funds parts of the salaries for St. Clair County EMA employees, but Haynes does not expect any layoffs.
She said there are only three people employed with the St. Clair County EMA. All EMA salaries are partially funded with CSEPP money.
“With a county our size and with the potential hazards we face, this county really needs three people (in the St. Clair County EMA office),” Haynes said.
She said there are a lot of mandated EMA programs, which local agencies can tap into for future financial resources.
“We’re going to be seeking new funds and grants to maintain the emergency management programs this county is accustomed to,” Haynes said. “We have to maintain a certain amount of emergency preparedness.”
Calhoun, Etowah, Cleburne and Clay County EMAs are also participants in the CSEPP.
Contact David Atchison at firstname.lastname@example.org.