Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Bush commits to Fernald plant cleanup

Budget includes 'empowerment zone'

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — President Bush released details of his $1.96 trillion federal budget Monday with more money for environmental cleanup at Fernald and a full commitment to an “empowerment zone” in some of Cincinnati's poorest neighborhoods.

        The president's request to Congress adds depth to an outline he announced in February. Lawmakers will review the numbers and submit their own spending proposals before a final package is approved for the next fiscal year.

        Contractors at Fernald, a former uranium-processing plant, would receive $285.3 million for cleanup programs, a $1.8 million increase from this fiscal year, and $4.7 million for safety and security efforts. The project is scheduled for completion by December 2006.

        The increase at Fernald is significant because the administration wants to reduce spending on other defense cleanup projects, including work at the Mound plant near Dayton and sites in Ashtabula and Columbus, by $29.8 million.

        The administration also wants to spend $125 million to keep the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, a uranium facility in Piketon, on standby in case further production is necessary. The plant, which is expected to end production this year, would receive $113.9 million for cleanup and other work, a $40 million increase.

Promised amount

               Meanwhile, Cincinnati and other cities selected as empowerment zones would receive the full amount of money promised when the program was established several years ago to help revitalize struggling urban and rural com munities. Cities were told they would receive $10 million a year for 10 years, but Congress had not provided all of the money available to some of the empowerment zones.

        According to the city manager's office, Cincinnati received $3 million in 1999, the year it was designated an empowerment zone, $3.6 million in 2000, and expects to see $12.3 million in 2001.

        It would receive $10 million in 2002 under Mr. Bush's proposal. Nine neighborhoods — Avondale, Over-the-Rhine, Walnut Hills, Clifton-Fairview, Corryville, Evanston, Mount Auburn, Queensgate and West End — are targeted for improvement.

        Administrative and territorial disputes have beset the Cincinnati Empowerment Corp., which oversees the program. Some officials involved complain that the lack of a full commitment from the federal government has been a factor.

Mill Creek money

               The Bush administration also recommended $2 million for a report on flood control and sewage overflow prevention along Mill Creek. The city estimates that the project would cost $600 million. A flood-control project for Duck Creek would receive $2.7 million next fiscal year.

        Cincinnati City Council will work with lawmakers and its federal lobbyists to obtain the Mill Creek money and potential funding for several other projects, including $10 million in street improvements near the riverfront and $5 million for a downtown transportation center.

        Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, will ask Congress for federal money for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the $90 million riverfront museum celebrating the clandestine trail slaves used to escape the South. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, will likely request money for the University of Cincinnati's Medical Sciences Building.


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