- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Army has agreed to postpone the burning of chemical weapons at an incinerator in Anniston, Ala., until a federal judge can consider an environmental group’s request for a restraining order.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson set a hearing for Friday morning to consider a motion by the Chemical Weapons Working Group for a temporary restraining order blocking startup of the incinerator.

The Army had planned to begin operations this morning.

Army officials released a statement yesterday afternoon announcing the decision but expressing confidence the judge would quickly reject the motion.

“The Army believes that it has fully complied with all legal requirements pertaining to the (incinerator) startup and emphasizes that public safety remains its primary concern,” said Jim Abrams, a spokesman for the incinerator.

Mr. Abrams said it isn’t clear when the incineration process would begin if Judge Jackson denies the working group’s request.

The Army has already agreed not to move weapons during school hours, which means moving won’t begin any earlier than late Friday afternoon. Under the original schedule, that would suggest incineration would start no earlier than Saturday morning, but Mr. Abrams wouldn’t confirm any new timetable.

“We are right now just in a wait-and-see mode,” Mr. Abrams said.

Craig Williams, executive director for the Chemical Weapons Working Group, said Judge Jackson summoned both sides to court yesterday afternoon to set a time for a hearing.

“We’re working at this incrementally,” Mr. Williams said. “We have stopped them for a couple days. We hope we’ll get a ruling that will stop them through the temporary injunction phase.”

A temporary injunction could delay incineration for several weeks pending consideration. Ultimately the group would like to see a trial on the merits of the weapons-burning and a further airing of public-safety concerns, a process that could take years.

Military officials have said the project does not pose an undue danger to local residents, but have admitted they will begin the incineration process by destroying the most dangerous weapons.

Thousands of residents in what is called the pink zone, the area designated as most at risk in the event of a chemical release, have been offered protective hoods, air filters and shelter kits.

It is expected to take seven years to destroy the 2,254 tons of Cold War-era chemical weapons housed at Anniston Army Depot. That represents just about 7 percent of the 31,000 tons the United States has agreed to destroy by 2007 under an international treaty.

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