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Hamzat team funding a disaster

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Lack of funding has made local team

By The Staff

If a tanker truck overturned in Marion County today, spilling hazardous materials all over a roadway, local emergency officials would have to wait an hour for a hazmat team from Louisville or Elizabethtown to arrive on scene.

That might be a surprise to some people, considering that six years ago the Hazmat Region 5 team was formed to serve Marion, Nelson, Hardin, Washington, Green, Breckinridge, Meade, Grayson, Taylor and LaRue counties.

But, because of a lack of funding, the Hazmat Region 5 team is basically non-existent. That's what members of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) learned Thursday during one of its regular annual meetings.

While discussing plans for a mock chlorine spill exercise at Lebanon Water Works, which will take place in May of 2010, Hazmat Region 5 volunteer and LEPC member Gary Luce told the group that the local hazmat team was in "stand down mode."

According to Luce, when the team was formed in 2004, they received thousands of dollars from the federal government to purchase hazmat equipment. The program, initiated and funded by Homeland Security, was a direct result of the terrorist attacks that took place Sept. 11, 2001. And while the federal government put $1.1 million into the program, the ongoing costs were apparently an after thought.

"It was a good thought but nobody looked at the big picture," Luce said.

As a result, the Hazmat Region 5 team can't even afford to pay for insurance for the hazmat truck and trailer, according to Kevin Devine, chairman of the Hazmat Region 5 board of directors. The truck and trailer, which is fully stocked with supplies, is just sitting in Washington County. If there were an emergency, the team wouldn't even be able to use it, Devine said.

"This is not just an issue for region 5, this is an issue across the whole state," he said. "We are trying to explore our options into what we can do. Being a volunteer service, it's very difficult to come up with funding."

Devine said one choice is to get funding from the county governments, which they tried in the beginning. Initially, the team asked each county to contribute $2,000 toward the hazmat team. But not every county paid, which created a fairness issue, Devine said.

"But now the counties are financially strapped too," Devine said. "We are in between a rock and a hard place in finding funding streams."

According to Devine, the ongoing costs to keep the hazmat team up and going are tremendous. For example, the hazmat suits have a shelf life, and each of them cost $1,100 a piece. The team has to have a minimum of four suits, he said. The equipment has to be updated often, which also involves a great deal of expense.

"Basically, the funding stream was never put together correctly," Devine said. "Ongoing costs were never thought about."

And while a community, such as Marion County, may not have a need for the hazmat team regularly, it would still be beneficial for the community if there ever were an emergency hazmat situation.

"It's a great asset to have," Devine said. "It's one of those things that don't get used very often but when you need it, you need it."