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West Valley contractor eliminating 65 jobs; Workers were hired with stimulus funding

The prime contractor to the U.S. Department of Energy at the West Valley Demonstration Project is cutting its work force by about 20 percent.

West Valley Environmental Services says it needs to eliminate 65 of its 325 jobs as federal stimulus dollars tied to specific projects come to an end. The cuts will leave the contractor with about 260 jobs at the Cattaraugus County operation.

Additional reductions could follow when a new prime contractor takes over this summer and decides how many employees it needs at West Valley.

West Valley Environmental is trying to eliminate the 65 jobs with few or no involuntary layoffs, by offering a voluntary separation program to workers. Employees have until Monday to apply for the program, said John Chamberlain, the company's technical adviser.

Employees who leave under the "self-select program" will receive benefits including severance pay based on years of service, extended health care coverage and retraining support.

About $64 million in federal stimulus dollars was awarded to accelerate certain projects at West Valley over a three-year period. Those funds expire in June.

"We have to get to the right employment to match that," Chamberlain said. The 65 jobs represent the same number of positions created with the stimulus funds.

The work force at West Valley could shrink some more. The Energy Department is about to select a prime contractor to succeed West Valley Environmental to carry out the next phase of work under a seven-year contract. That work will include some demolition.

"There could be another round of layoffs, or there might not be. We don't know," Chamberlain said. The answer will not come until the new contractor is in place this summer and evaluates the work force.

West Valley, just south of Springville, was the site of the nation's only privately operated commercial nuclear fuel processing facility. The operation separated reusable uranium and plutonium from spent fuel, which came from both commercial and federal nuclear reactors.

The facility was shut down in 1972. Cleanup has been ongoing since the 1980s.

Employment at West Valley rose through the 1980s and early 1990s, peaking at about 1,000 people in the mid-1990s, according to data from West Valley Environmental. Employment there has fallen over the past 15 years, dropping below the 400-person mark about five years ago. The company has been the prime contractor since 2007. About half of the site's current work force comes from north of Cattaraugus Creek, Chamberlain said.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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