Defense Media Network

ACWA Construction Teams Moving Full Steam Ahead

In the past year, construction efforts at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (PCAPP) in Colorado and the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) in Kentucky have progressed significantly, dramatically changing the landscapes at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot and the Blue Grass Army Depot. Both plants fall under the purview of the U.S. Army Element, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) program, which is the Department of Defense agency responsible for managing the destruction at both sites and overseeing the respective systems contractors.

Described as the capstone of the U.S. Chemical Weapons Destruction program by ACWA Program Manager Kevin Flamm, together the two sites will destroy the nation’s last 10 percent of chemical weapons.

Once operations begin, the BGCAPP will destroy about 101,000 chemical weapons consisting of a combination of rockets and projectiles containing three agent types: nerve agents GB and VX, and blister agent mustard. The PCAPP will destroy 780,000 munitions, including mortars and projectiles, containing blister agent mustard.

Although the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty, which the United States signed in 1997, has given the United States an extension to 2012 for completing destruction, Flamm explained that it’s not going to be feasible for ACWA to meet the 2012 timeframe.

PCAPP Construction

Workers install roof panels atop the Energetics Service Magazine corridor at the Pueblo Army Depot. U.S. Army photo by Kristen Szydloski

Because of a slow start based upon congressional direction as well as the challenge of developing the destruction technologies, the two sites will take longer to complete destruction. However, they are on track to finish destruction in Colorado in 2017 and in Kentucky in 2021.

“I think the world recognizes the U.S.’ commitment to eliminating this [chemical weapons] is absolute,” Flamm stated. “The U.S. has probably spent more than any other nation in the world eliminating these chemical weapons in a safe and environmentally sound manner.

“Our commitment to that is absolute and we will eliminate all of our chemical weapons, to include the Colorado and Kentucky stockpiles, as rapidly as possible without sacrificing safety or environmental protection.”

Although funding issues had previously slowed the work of the systems contractors, a guaranteed increase in funding by the government has helped speed up progress at both sites.

In 2008, ACWA’s funding profile for the years 2010 to 2015 was increased by $100 million per year. This additional funding has made it possible for both PCAPP and BGCAPP to accelerate their original construction schedules by enabling them to increase the size of their workforces and expedite the procurement of materials for construction.

“It’s allowed us to commit to the contractors that these additional funds would be available in the out-years so they could hire additional staff to do the additional shifts to allow us to complete construction earlier,” said Flamm.

In Colorado, systems contractor Bechtel Pueblo is working tirelessly to construct the PCAPP, while the Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass team is working on the BGCAPP in Kentucky.

The contracts that Bechtel Pueblo and Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass were awarded are known as lifecycle contracts, which mean they are responsible for all phases of project execution, including design, construction, systemization, pilot testing, operations, and closure.

Focused on project milestones as a measure of their success, the teams at both sites are proud of the construction efforts and progress toward systemization they’ve made in the past year, and are on track to ensure that ACWA’s mission is successfully completed.


While the PCAPP project broke ground in 2004, it had a bumpy start to get where it’s at today.

“There was a groundbreaking, then a stop work order,” said Paul Henry, Bechtel Pueblo project manager. “The stop work order stopped design work on the main process facilities and we were directed to go through a redesign process, and started with a conceptual design really as a cost-reduction effort.

“So we stopped, we demobilized the entire design team except for 35 people, and we spent the next year conceptualizing a redesign. We designed from 2005 into the beginning of 2007, where we then transitioned all of the resources in the field.”

The phase one construction began at the end of 2005, which primarily consisted of infrastructure support of the project site. Construction of the main process buildings began in January 2008.

PCAPP Construction ACWA

An electrician prepares conduit for electrical cable inside the Agent Processing Building at the Pueblo Army Depot. U.S. Army photo by Kristen Szydloski

With more than 50 percent of the construction phase completed at PCAPP, they have now begun the systemization phase, and are scheduled to complete construction at the end of the first quarter 2012.

Systemization is the physical testing of all machinery, equipment and processes using water or simulants to ensure they function together as an integrated system. Systemization takes place gradually; first with components, then sub-systems, followed by systems, and finally full-up plant operation.

Nearly all of PCAPP’s buildings are not only up, but within the past year have also been mostly enclosed from the elements.

“Primarily, a year ago, all you would see is steel beams and concrete,” said Walton Levi, deputy site project manager for PCAPP. “We’ve been able to install a lot of the preliminary equipment like fire sprinkler systems, lights, electrical cabinets, conduit, and interior walls. In the next several months, we’ll transition to more technical type stuff, bringing in more electricians, pipefitters, and welders as we really finish off the inside of the facilities.”

The current construction focus at PCAPP now is the completion of setting up mechanical equipment and installation of the piping.

“Predominantly we’re in the commodity phase of the project,” Henry said. “We’re coming down on our civil structural commodities, the concrete and the steel, and we’re into the bulk commodities of piping and electrical.”

Henry described the real construction milestones of the past year as the completion of the primary steel for the process facilities, both the Agent Processing Building (APB) and the Enhanced Reconfiguration Building (ERB), as well as the main switchgear substation.

The ERB is where the disassembly of the munitions will take place. The APB is where the agent will be flushed out of the munitions and neutralized and the empty munitions will be thermally decontaminated.

“The other major milestone is we’ve completed the design for our neutralization system and the bioreactors, and I’ve got those in the procurement process,” Levi added. “Along with the negotiation for systemization, those are probably the three key milestones we’ve accomplished this year.”

At PCAPP, the first five systems have been turned over from construction to systemization. They anticipate moving into the bulk of system turnover activities in 2011, and are scheduled to complete systemization at the end of 2014.

Levi explained that they have been able to do pre-systemization, which has been an opportunity for the systems contractor to develop some of the early documentation that would be needed during systemization, including high-level plans, policies, and procedures. They were also able to bring on some of the training staff early to develop training and curriculum.

As PCAPP prepares for full-up systemization, the systems contractor is completing utility

BGCAPP Munitions Demilitarization

BGCAPP workers place the first horizontal concrete in the blast containment area of the Munitions Demilitarization Building at the Blue Grass Army Depot. U.S. Army photo by Kristen Szydloski

verification of power and water systems, as well as looking at available resources, primarily from where they’re going to draw the necessary workforce.

“We have a good team between the government, the systems contractor and key stakeholders,” Levi pointed out as he discussed the PCAPP project’s success to date. “We’re able to work through issues quickly and keep the project rolling. If you don’t keep all the players working well together, resources really become immaterial.”


Having started limited construction at BGCAPP in 2006, the Kentucky site will be the last chemical weapons demilitarization plant in the United States to complete destruction. Although not as far along as PCAPP, they are making comparable strides toward project completion.

“We’re about 26 percent complete with the construction phase and we’ve been working on construction for about four years now, but we just reached 100 percent on the design phase,”  Mark Seely, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass project manager, said while discussing progress at Blue Grass. “So the beginning of construction overlapped with the end of design, and we’ll do the same thing between construction and systemization.”

The project schedules at both sites have actually been structured in a manner called “fast tracking,” where the project phases overlap.

Although there was some slowdown in the initial design work of the BGCAPP because of funding, there was never a stop work order as happened at Pueblo, explained Jeffrey Brubaker, site project manager for BGCAPP.

The approach taken at BGCAPP was to design the facilities or those parts of the process that are on the project’s critical path (those activities that will take the longest to complete) first so that they could be released to construction.

“There was a lot of work required that dealt primarily with preparing the site and the materials under the site in terms of the soil and  the stone under the site, which ultimately provides a good, stable base on which the concrete foundations can be installed,” said Brubaker.

Foundation issues there are incredibly important as the design criteria specifies that the facilities must be able to withstand any seismic-type events.

“A number of our foundations under the Munitions Demilitarization Building [MDB] are up to 42 inches thick of concrete, reinforced with a large quantity of steel rebar,” added Brubaker. “All of those foundations have been completed at this time.”

The walls in those portions of the facility are also up to 26 inches in thickness, reinforced with steel rebar.

At both BGCAPP and PCAPP, a special kind of concrete called self-consolidating concrete (SCC) is also being used because of the complex blast facilities with so much reinforcing steel inside the walls and foundations. SCC is highly flowable and can easily encapsulate all of the inner reinforcement.

According to the BGCAPP project manager, the MDB is really the heart of the matter at that site, as it’s the primary processing building. It’s where almost everything will take place from a technical, chemical and mechanical standpoint to eliminate the chemical weapons.

Unlike PCAPP, which has separate buildings for the disassembly of munitions, neutralization of agent, and decontamination of empty munitions, the MDB will be a sort of one-stop-shop for chemical weapons destruction. The Super Critical Water Oxidation (SCWO) process, though, will take place in a separate building.

“Earlier this year, we transitioned to vertical construction efforts, primarily focused on our blast containment portions of the facility, which consist of several rooms where the rockets and projectiles will be disassembled” said Brubaker. “We’re also working to put up the structural steel around the Munitions Demilitarization Building.”

Also in the past year, workers completed the structural steel on the Control and Support Building (CSB), which is adjacent to the MDB, and from where the plant will largely be controlled. They also placed major portions of the foundation for the SCWO Building, completed the Utility Building foundation and put up the majority of its structural steel.

“Primarily in the next year or so, we’ll finish all the structural steel and we’ll finish the majority of the vertical concrete walls,” Seely said. “We’ll enclose both of the main buildings, the MDB and the CSB, and we’ll enclose the Utility Building. We’ll either be complete or close to complete with enclosing the SCWO Building, and will be well into installing equipment and commodities in most buildings.”

In 2012, when the MDB is enclosed with steel, roof and siding panels, the construction efforts will rapidly transition into completing the piping and the mechanical equipment installation.

“The largest aspect of construction will be running all of the electrical wire, conduit and instrumentation cable,” added Brubaker. “We’ll have over 7 million linear feet of wire to run to various instruments and control systems.”

It will take about three years, to 2015, to complete the piping and the electrical work.

As of now, the official construction completion timeframe is 2016, but according to the project manager, there is the potential for them to accelerate their completion date.

“We’ve worked really closely with the client over the last six to nine months, and we’ll continue to do that, to look for ways to shorten the overall project schedule – but for now, especially the construction schedule,” Seely said.

Another facet of the construction and systemization phase that BGCAPP is doing is bringing on some of the workforce early. For obvious reasons, many of the people who work in systemization will continue on into the operations phase. They actually already have about two to three dozen mid- and senior-level managers and technical workers on the project that will be working the systemization and operations phases.

They have been reviewing designs and providing input during construction, to ensure that the plant operates well from an operator standpoint, including both safely and ergonomically.

Similar to PCAPP, pre-systemization is also taking place at BGCAPP, with planning and procedure-process writing, and ensuring that the necessary workforce is trained and in place.

While the bulk of systemization will not begin until late 2011, the first turnovers of sub-systems from construction to systemization have already occurred.

“Instead of waiting until construction is complete to start systemization, we’re actually going to have about a three-plus year overlap,” Seely said.

Moving Forward

As BGCAPP and PCAPP continue to move ahead with construction and into systemization, both sites remain focused on safety.

“The schedule is not the driver in this program, the driver is to do it safely,” said Flamm. “If you do it safely, you will get the job done as quick as possible and much more so than if you try to cut corners.”

Considering the complexity of both projects, ACWA is very proud of its safety record.

“Both of the sites now have Voluntary Protection Program packages approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” Flamm continued. “Pueblo already has achieved Star status, and that demonstration, that commitment to safety to be the first demilitarization plant in the history of the program to get that status during construction just speaks volumes.

“Even more so, it’s not just driven down by the leadership. This is lived day to day by the workforce. That safety culture will carry through from construction to our systemization phase to operations and closure. By having that safe worksite that’s embraced not only by the leadership but also the workers, that’s going to give us the ability to get the program done sooner and to be more efficient in our operations.”

This article was first published in U.S. Army Materiel Command: 2010-2011 Edition.


Nicole Heaton served for four years as a U.S. Air Force Public Affairs officer and...