The United States Enrichment Corporation’s impending shutdown at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant isn’t surprising following months of uncertainty regarding a contract extension with plant owner, the Department of Energy.
But, what has come as a surprise is the now uncertain future of the organization designed to mitigate the economic effects of the thousand-employee plant’s closure.
Enrichment operations are finished, and it won't be long before the first round of layoffs ensue. Now community leaders scrambling to find ways to help the soon-to-be unemployed.
Georgann Lookofsky is one of the 1,100 USEC workers facing unemployment in the coming months. The company plans to hand the gaseous diffusion plant back to the D-O-E by twenty-fourteen.
Until then, workers are fulfilling customer contracts and cleaning up radioactive materials. Each of them is awaiting impending rounds of employment cuts.
"When you walk into a building where you’ve worked and where you’ve been responsible for meeting production quotas," Lookofsky says. "It is emotional when you realize that the equipment that you’ve been operating on for so long no longer operates."
In the late 1990s, the federal government created the Paducah-Area Reuse Organization (PACRO) to prepare the region for cuts or the plant’s closure.
PACRO formed an assembly of regional leaders who wrote grants for workers and utilized aid programs. They act as stewards of the facility and its employees with the help of a ten million dollar D-O-E-funded start-up grant.
The Purchase Area Development District (PADD) managed those grants and provided administration for PACRO until now. PADD will end its relationship with PACRO this month. The organization’s role is changing plant’s closure.
In January, the Paducah Economic Development Council asked to assume PACRO’s management operation, despite PADD’s contract with the organization.
The PACRO executive committee denied the request, but Chairman Jerry Hoover says that’s when the organization and its administrator were met with a great deal of public criticism.
"Nobody complained until just recently, and that came primarily from the P-E-D organization," Hoover says.
When D-O-E start-up funds dried up in 2006, PACRO made the decision to focus on revolving personal and agency loans to stay afloat. As for reusing the plant facilities, Hoover says little can be done.
"In order to find somebody to go out there and to reuse that facility, you have to have access, and, you know, that property doesn’t belong to us," he says.
But P-E-D’s President Chad Chancellor disagrees.
"I find it to be an excuse. I don’t think they were capable to do it. I don’t think they had the expertise in doing it. It has not been run like an organization should be run," he says.
Chancellor says he won’t approach the table to negotiate for a P-E-D management role again. If the search committee approaches his agency, he says he’ll consider the terms, but the financial environment is dangerous.
"They have loaned out two to three million dollars since January that was not loaned out at the time," he says, "and so whoever ends up taking it over is taking it over without the financial resources to do probably what needs to be done."
But PADD contends that, without D-O-E funding the move to go ahead with loans was the only way PACRO could achieve its mission.
"Since 2006, there hasn’t been a single dollar of grant funding to the PACRO program," Medlock says. "Without that due diligence, we wouldn’t have had the funds to be able to help the region create the jobs and leverage the resources that it has – especially in the last two months."
Back at the plant, Georgann Lookofsky says workers are just trying to focus on the job at hand. But, in the back of even her own mind is a sense of the unknown.
"A lot of uncertainty," she says. "I’m trying to look at this as an opportunity. For right now I’m open to what those opportunities might be and, I’m trying to stay positive about that and be optimistic about the future."
Paducah leaders hope PACRO can provide those opportunities.