BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
More than a decade ago, the Newport Chemical Depot just across the Illinois-Indiana state line was the focus of emergency planning in Vermilion County because of the potential danger posed by an emergency at the facility.
Fast forward to 2013 and the facility — as well as the federal funding provided to prepare for an emergency there — are a thing of the past.
We’ve changed our attention away from (the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program) because it’s pretty much gone,” said Vermilion County Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Fisher.
The chemical depot, located along Indiana Route 63, produced and stored VX, a deadly nerve agent. The facility closed after more 1,200 tons of VX were destroyed on the site.
“We used to get a lot of money because of CSEPP,” Fisher said of the federal funding. “As a matter of fact, we wouldn’t have some of the things we have now without CSEPP. We’d be struggling even worse.”
The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, spawned much of the funds the Vermilion County EMA received for several years. But over time, those funds have begun to drop off considerably.
“A lot of this stuff has grown since 9/11,” Fisher said of state and federal requirements. “A lot of the duties have grown, but the money hasn’t grown.
“Initially there was a lot of money to have for training and equipment and things like that,” he added. “Now the budgets are drying up and it’s a little harder to get things done.”
The EMA works off a budget of $250,000 budget from the county.
The agency also receives two state grants — the larger being $35,000 total — as well as a smaller grant, the latter of which is used for hazardous material issues. Fisher said there are a lot of hoops to jump through to apply for what federal grants are still out there for EMA.
The county’s hazardous materials team receives $15,000 per year from EMA to operate, he said.
“As far as taxpayers go, that’s pretty darn cheap to have a haz mat team because haz mat teams are pretty expensive,” Fisher said, adding such teams can be “thousands and thousands of dollars expensive.”
The small amount the team receives, however, is starting to show in areas such as equipment, some of which has become outdated. The team’s last new equipment came almost a decade ago.
“It’s a solution were going to have to look at a far as getting them equipment,” Fisher said.
The yearly drop in money has prompted cutbacks in previous years. Fisher said EMA had to stop supplying food to responders at the scenes of large fires because of the expense involved. The area American Red Cross now does that.
“What do you cut back, what’s going to go?” he said.
Things have become tight enough that Fisher said he may even have to look at cuts for his staff — which totals just three people.
“You can’t fix everything, but you have to try to limit how much risk you have out her to keep everybody safe and happy,” Fisher said.