Goshen News, Goshen, IN

State News

March 29, 2014

Former home of deadly VX slow to find new use

NEWPORT, Ind. (AP) — When Bill Laubernds tours the 7,000-acre Newport Chemical Depot — complete with abandoned structures, old cemeteries and derelict signs of the country's chemical history of producing chemical weapons — he doesn't see an old chemical plant site. He sees potential.

Laubernds, executive director of the Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority, has since 2009 been trying to build a new future at the Newport site, complete with businesses, industrial investment and natural, open space in the confines of the fenced-in expanse that used to house part of the country's chemical weapons stockpile.

The last truck filled with VX left the depot in 2008.

You can truck the chemical weapons away, but can you ever really separate the depot from the weapons?

The staff at the Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority, town residents and the Vermillion County area hope the answer is a resounding "yes" for the sake of the economy. Over the past decade, Vermillion County has experienced a shrinking labor force and high joblessness.

The county has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 11 percent, according to a March estimate by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, versus the state's 6.6 percent average rate. By comparison, Tippecanoe County's unemployment rate is 5.6 percent.

"The first threshold is the creation of a thousand jobs," Laubernds told the Journal & Courier (http://on.jconline.com/1mqp0gB ). "Reaching those goals will dramatically improve the lives of people in west-central Indiana. When you have a total population of 15,000 and you can add 1,000 jobs, almost everyone you know would have a job."

Companies that locate there don't seem to mind its past use, Laubernds said.

"Because the federal government has ensured that the hazardous waste has been cleaned up and indemnified subsequent users, that gives businesses coming in some level of comfort," Laubernds said. "They do their own due diligence, and we've found they've become very comfortable."

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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