PARKS TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — Patty Ameno is an activist who has helped rally an entire community in demanding the safe removal and disposal of countless barrels of nuclear waste buried at a 144-acre site in Armstrong County.

After decades of lobbying, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has now committed to a $350 million cleanup plan to do just that.

“The Corps of Engineers, they gave me and the people of this area, a fantastic Christmas present,” said Ameno.

Back in the 1960s, the defunct NUMEC materials plant in Apollo produced nuclear fuel for power plants and atomic submarines.

NUMEC and its successors stored the waste in 55-gallon drums and buried it in shallow trenches at the Parks Township site.

An initial attempt to unearth the material failed 2007 when excavators encountered volatile material they weren’t equipped to handle.

After studies and hearings, the Corps has rejected a proposal to encapsulate the material on site in favor of taking it to storage facilities out of state, at a cost 10 times the original estimates.

“This is a benefit to the community because it’s going to get the material and remove the stigma from the community that been lingering for so long,” said Bill Lenart, of the Army Corps of Engineers.

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The Corps, which is putting out request for proposals for contractors, then will work on a plan with actual excavation starting in 2018. But despite assurances that the process will be safe, the unearthing and transport of the material has some neighbors understandably nervous.

“I guess it’s good news that they’re cleaning it up, but it’s kind of bad news for us. There’s the possibility of us still being exposed while they’re digging it up,” said Hutch Hutchinson, who lives in Parks Township. “That’s why they stopped it the last time.”

But in Ameno’s view, this is good news indeed in that the nuclear waste will finally be gone, and that the site, the town and the region will finally be rid of the life-threatening material.