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Cleaning up the legacy of the Cold War put Daniel Mikell back to work.

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The P Reactor and the Savannah River Site  Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
The P Reactor and the Savannah River Site

The 41-year-old Aiken man leaves his house at 4:30 a.m. each weekday to get to the gates at Savannah River Site before the crowd arrives after 5:15 a.m.

He spent 20 years in residential construction before being laid off last year. He found his new job in April, going to work on one of the $1.6 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-funded projects.

"You got to go where the money is," Mr. Mikell said. "Right now there is no money in residential home building."

Bill Picciano says he's happy to be working again.

He lost his job in March, among the first wave of layoffs at the Kennametal plant in Martinez.

"We struggled. What little money I had saved up went out the door in those three months," said the 47-year-old North Augusta man.

Dennis Gumby spends more time on the road.

He now drives to the plant from Thomson each morning, spending nearly an hour in the car.

His Recovery Act work will run out in September 2011.

"I hope I can stay out here doing something," Mr. Gumby said.

The three men from three different communities are among many now finding the road to a new job is one that takes them to the Savannah River Site outside Aiken.

Their new employer, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, will be using the next two years to figure out how to keep the jobs and the workers who fill them coming to SRS when the latest task is done or the money's gone.

"We've been up front that this is a two and a half year effort," said Chuck Munns, president of SRNS, one of the major contract employers at SRS.

"It gives us time to work on the 'what's next.' There will be normal attrition from my company and others here on the site," he said. "Year by year, we will fill those spots where people have been retiring."

The good news, Mr. Munns says, is that there are other projects on the horizon. There is talk of an energy park, for example, and the MOX project will begin operating. But these are four to five years away.

For now, SRNS still has 1,400 more jobs to fill.

More than 13,500 people have applied for the 3,000 positions that will be funded by the Recovery Act.

Mr. Munns said he was surprised at the number of applicants.

"We were a little worried about being able to ramp up and find 3,000 people," he admitted.

The applicants have been found through Web sites, staffing agencies and job fairs.

"It pulls on my heartstrings the need in the community," Mr. Munns said. "They just want to work. We're not going to solve all that, but we'll make a big dent."

The search for more workers is not over. SRS is planning to send out a van in August to conduct mobile job fairs in remote areas in Georgia and South Carolina. The schedule isn't finished, he said.

The purpose is to stop in areas that haven't had a job fair in order to give people in other neighboring counties -- with high unemployment rates -- a chance to apply for stimulus work. The mobile job fairs will also assist people with resume building.

"If there is a match with us, that's great, but we want to make this a broader effort and help people," Mr. Munns said. "I think we're going to call it Road to Recovery."

Despite the temporary nature of the jobs, the fact that 3,000 people are working and $1.6 billion is being spent in the area will be a boon to the regional economy, university economists have said previously.

More than $90 million in contracts has been placed through the Recovery Act thus far, SRS officials report. More than $63 million of that was awarded to local businesses.

"By the end of the summer, my company will have pumped $250 million into the local economy and hired 1,250 people," Mr. Munns said.

The impact is being felt beyond the borders of the Augusta area.

Jim Eluskie escaped Michigan's 15.2 percent unemployment rate and now examines soil samples at SRS.

Mr. Eluskie was an unemployed geologist when SRS came calling. Laid off from a managerial position, he was trying to form his own environmental consulting firm in order to find work.

"It was more business, which bores me, so this is a blessing in disguise. I like the field work better," he said.

Nearly 800 of the 3,000 people expected to get stimulus-funded work are existing SRS employees who would have lost their job had the Recovery Act work not been awarded.

SRS is adding 100 new employees each week, processing them through safety training and medical checks.

The $1.6 billion will be spent on remediating 50 contaminated areas at SRS and the closing of two old reactors that once produced material for the nation's nuclear arsenal.

SRS already had these plans on the shelf awaiting funding, Mr. Munns said, and pulled them out and submitted them to the Department of Energy as "shovel ready" projects for the Recovery Act. It was among the first stimulus projects approved, he said.

"Primarily to put people to work and get real work done," Mr. Munns said.

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or timothy.rausch@augustachronicle.com.

Related Story

Jobs in recovery: Meet some of the people who found jobs funded by the economic recovery act

By the numbers

$1.6 billion - Amount awarded to SRS from the federal economic stimulus plan

3,000 - Jobs funded by the stimulus plan

1,600 - Positions already filled

800 - Existing employees who kept their jobs because of the federal funds

13,500 - People who have submitted applications

1,400 - Positions yet to be filled

100 - New workers hired per week

$90 million - Contracts placed through the stimulus plan

$63 million - Contracts given to local businesses

NAME: Dennis Gumby

AGE: 36

RESIDES: Thomson

FORMER JOB: Self-employed (ran his own maintenance business)

SRS JOB: R Reactor cleanup

HOW HE GOT THE JOB: Through the Carpenters Local 283

NAME: Jim Eluskie

RESIDES: Aiken; his family stayed in Michigan

FORMER JOB: Project manager for a private company in Michigan

SRS JOB: Provides technical oversight for one of the cleanup missions

HOW HE GOT THE JOB: Through a Savannah River Nuclear Solutions contractor

NAME: Bill Picciano

AGE: 47

RESIDES: North Augusta

FORMER JOB: Night shift supervisor at Kennametal in Martinez

SRS JOB: Works in logistics for one of the nuclear waste cleanup areas

HOW HE GOT THE JOB: Went to a job-placement agency and submitted his resume to SRS

NAME: Melissa Roberts

AGE: 31

RESIDES: Augusta

FORMER JOB: Worked for an environmental consulting firm in Columbia

SRS JOB: Monitors environmental cleanliness of ground wells

HOW SHE GOT THE JOB: Applied after seeing listing on South Carolina's JobLink Web site

Comments (4) Add comment
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FallingLeaves 08/02/09 - 12:00 pm
I've been telling everyone I

I've been telling everyone I know that needs a job....

ugadawgbite 08/02/09 - 03:33 pm
Why is he wearing scrubs to

Why is he wearing scrubs to go clean asbestos?

Phish 08/02/09 - 05:20 pm
how come dey all got white

how come dey all got white names dey racis

Asitisinaug 08/03/09 - 12:33 am
The way Obama is enabling

The way Obama is enabling everyone, no one wants the jobs. Why work when you get a tax check without paying taxes, live in section 8 housing, get a welfare check, get food stamps, etc. and you can sit on your butt, talk on your cell and drink beer all day.

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