RAAP opens gates to general public for first time ever
Plant commander said transparency needed to prove positive culture change
MONTGOMERY Co., Va. – It has been less than two weeks since a deadly fire occurred at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant but, on Thursday night, plant leaders said the facility is safe and safety remains the No. 1 priority. They said this during a community meeting that had been planned prior to the fire.
The plant commander, Lt. Col. Jim Scott, said there is positive change happening at the facility, which produces explosives for munitions used by American soldiers. To prove it, he did something that no commander before him has ever done. He invited the general public to see the facility firsthand.
The meeting at the RAAP on Thursday was a historic event. For the first time since production started to support American soldiers during World War II, regular citizens were given a chance to see inside the fences. The group of a few dozen people were chosen by plant leaders, who said they were people who had come to many of the other community meetings.
"The purpose is to show my commitment, show my gratitude and to let them know that we all want the same thing - a great environment," Scott said.
Our cameras were not allowed on the tour, only at the meeting in the facility's gymnasium. But, we were allowed to ride along on the bus tour, which lasted about 45 minutes and showed people the dozen or so open burn pits that have been the subject of much scrutiny. The burn pits are shallow, fireproof containers measuring about 20 feet long by 8 feet wide based on 10 News observations from the bus, and each one covered by a metal oversized lid, akin to a cake cover.
"The open burn is, of course, very much an issue for me, and to see it was helpful, and knowing that they're dealing and trying to work on this is deeply meaningful," Phyllis Albritton, a community activist, said.
The plant presented a slideshow at the meeting. During it, Scott said he had issued a challenge to reduce overall waste produced and then reduce the amount of open burning of the waste that is produced. The plant said it has reduced the lead going to the open burning ground by 65% and is on the path to reducing it by 90%. The plant has also reduced the total number of pounds of waste it treats by 35% this year, Scott said.
Scott also said the plant has has reduced the amount of waste burned at the open burning ground, and construction is set for a new energetic waste incinerator. That means that, by 2023 or sooner, 95% of all waste will be taken care of in the incinerator, and the remaining less than 5% will be burned openly. According to a chart provided by the plant, the goal is to only openly burn about 50,000 pounds of waste as compared to the 450,000 pounds openly burned in 2015.
"The materials that we have that (do not meet specifications), that we can't use as product -- (we will) be able to get rid of them in the most environmentally safe manner so that we don't expose the personnel or the community to the risk of those energetics," Rob Davie, Radford Army Ammunition Plant Deputy to the Commander, said.
Working with Virginia Tech, the plant is also installing new air monitors around the facility. Scott said it's part of the new culture to prove the plant is a responsible neighbor.
"This is our community as well. We're proud to be part of it, and we support the community, the joint warfighter and the men and women that make the propellant and munitions here on this installation," Scott said.
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