Chemical agent disposal facility completes its mission

The federal Pine Bluff Chemical Agent Disposal Facility at the Army’s Pine Bluff Arsenal faded into history Thursday, just over 37 months after eliminating the last remaining chemical munition in an installation stockpile that dated back to World War II.

“It always feels good when you can complete a project successfully,” said PBCDF Site Project Manager Mark Greer, who will be retiring in January after more than 30 years as a government engineer.

Citing the “benefits of safety and security,” Greer added, “I’m glad we made this a safer place to live.”

PBCDF’s 15-year life cycle included several phases — construction, systemization, operations, closure and demolition. The project employed as many as 1,200 government and contract workers at its peak, but only about 25 were active Thursday when systems contractor URS removed its remaining employees. A total of nine government and Leidos contract workers will man the field office until Jan.2.

Greer — who assumed permanent command in January 2007 after the unexpected November 2006 death of his predecessor, Randy Long — boasted of the skills exhibited by PBCDF employees throughout the mission.

“We were very fortunate in that we had an outstanding team of good, quality people, both government and contractor,” he said. “And we felt that the community here was also a partner. The community played a major role in our success by giving us outstanding support.”

Greer, Long and Boyce Ross, the initial site project manager, often echoed PBA leaders in describing the Army-public partnership as the nation’s strongest. Greer repeated the message Thursday.

“I can’t say enough about how much respect we held for this community,” he said. “We enjoyed being a part of this community, and the relationship we had with the public truly was the best in the country.

“This project was reflective of many successful partnerships,” he continued. “The employees, the local communities, the state regulators, the systems contractor — they all stepped up and did their part to see us through operations and even through the closure process.”

Greer praised his wife, Suzie Greer, for helping him through Long’s death and its immediate aftermath.

“She was supportive during the entire process, but when Randy passed away, she helped me through my toughest time,” he said, rating Long’s death as the effort’s darkest day. “I was having to deal with the emotions of losing a close friend and co-worker while I had to remain focused on project responsibilities at the same time. “

Suzie Greer will continue her job with the Pine Bluff Arsenal Credit Union.

PBCDF construction commenced in January 1999 and concluded in November 2002. Chemical agent disposal operations began in March 2005. Over the ensuing 68 months, PBCDF successfully destroyed 123,100 munitions (rockets, land mines and ton containers) that had carried approximately 7 million pounds of chemical agent.

Afterward, the disposal complex was decontaminated and dismantled in accordance with applicable permits and coordination with PBA. Possession of 24 PBCDF buildings that were uninvolved with chemical processing and maintained was granted to PBA for reuse, and the 26-acre site formerly occupied by PBCDF remains PBA property.

URS Project General Manager Greg Thomasson, in a Thursday news release, spoke on PBCDF’s nationally recognized safety record of more than 17 months without a recordable injury and more than 20 months without an environmental notice of non-compliance.

“The entire team embraced a safety culture, and the employees made it happen,” he said. “That became very important during demolition operations.”

URS human resources specialist Lori Jones pointed out that the workforce — comprised primarily of people who moved here from elsewhere — displayed its dedication to the local community by offering support in efforts to enhance life here.

URS employees contributed more than $960,000 to the United Way of Southeast Arkansas during PBCDF’s lifespan.

The multibillion dollar chemical demilitarization project — generated by a worldwide treaty — had a staggering impact on the local economy, creating an untold number of jobs and producing dramatic growth in the population of White Hall, which borders PBA.

The arsenal was one of eight demilitarization sites in the United States. The now-defunct Pine Bluff Chemical Activity oversaw PBCDF’s mission and was also responsible for safely storing the nation’s second-largest chemical munitions stockpile, which originally represented more than 12 percent of the total U.S. accumulation.