Original story written by Greg Kocher for the Lexington Herald-Leader, find the original version here.
An online effort has begun to raise money to complete a documentary film about Craig Williams, the Berea man who sought community consensus on the safe disposal of chemical weapons in Madison County.
The 25-minute documentary, Nerve: How a Small Kentucky Town Led the Fight to Safely Dismantle the World's Chemical Weapons, will tell how Williams worked to bring people together to find alternatives to the incineration of nerve and mustard agents near Richmond.
The documentary is a project of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation as the nonprofit organization marks its 25th anniversary. Williams was director of the Berea-based foundation from 1990 to 2008 and remains a volunteer staffer and board member.
A campaign to raise $50,000 for the documentary began last week and continues through May 3 on the crowd-funding website Indiegogo.com. As of Monday, $3,695 had been raised from 33 donors in six days.
"Right now we're on track with what we hoped to be doing," said Heather Warman, director of the foundation. "If we can keep that momentum going, I think we have a good chance of getting to our goal."
The movie trailer and some interviews have been done by Louisville filmmaker Ben Evans, but more needs to done, Warman said. Money raised through the crowd-funding effort will pay for, among other things, travel for interviews, acquisition of historical/archival footage, sound editing, narration and marketing, and DVD production.
Williams, 67, deadpans that the movie will use recent interviews of him and archival footage of him in various public meetings "because (Robert) De Niro wasn't available."
Warman hopes the documentary could be finished for a September release.
Warman, who became the foundation director last year, said the documentary will provide a historical record. The 25-minute length would make it easily usable in a classroom setting, she said.
But more than that, the story of how a community convinced the Army to change its plan "is a pretty enormous social justice-environmental justice win," Warman said.
The aim of the movie is to showcase how communities can accomplish goals in a collaborative manner, Williams said.
"You can't say, 'Don't do it.' That's not an answer. That's the example we have set and that's what I'd like to continue to share with people around the country," he said.
In 1984, Williams, a Vietnam veteran, was a woodworker making kitchen cabinets when the Army said an incinerator would be built to destroy the chemical weapons stockpile at Blue Grass Army Depot.
Residents wanted the weapons gone, and many thought incineration was a fast, safe solution. Williams disagreed.
So he gathered support from local governments and began meeting with people at other chemical disposal sites. That led to creation of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, an international network of activists, and creation of the foundation, which disseminates information about issues that effect the environment.
The Army eventually backed down from its plan to incinerate the weapons and decided instead to neutralize them through a complex chemical process. The plant to destroy the Madison County weapons is 92 percent complete, and neutralization of a stockpile in Pueblo, Colo., began this month.
Warman hopes the movie will educate people about the Madison County plant that will destroy chemical weapons. Although it's one of the largest construction projects in Central Kentucky — proposed federal funding for 2016 alone is nearly $258 million — many people aren't aware of it. Even Warman, a former American Red Cross staffer, admitted she didn't know about the plant until Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, the prime contractor on the plant's construction, donated to the Red Cross.
But the work of the foundation and Williams became known outside Kentucky. In 2006, he received the Goldman Environmental Prize, given each year to one grass-roots environmentalist on each continent.
Formally incorporated in December 1990, the Kentucky Environmental Foundation promotes environmental health and sustainability.
The model of consensus-building and community dialogue in Madison County has been used elsewhere, Williams said.
Recently, for example, the federal government wanted to destroy millions of pounds of M6 propellant at Camp Minden in Louisiana by burning it outdoors in large trays. The propellant is used in the firing of artillery rounds.
After a public outcry, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would create a "dialogue committee" to look for alternatives — the same approach that was used in Madison County.
"People (in Louisiana) contacted us and asked 'How did you do what you did?' and so on," Williams said. "We worked with those people for the last two months or so and ... the decision was made not to open burn that material."
To encourage donations for completion of the documentary, Indiegogo is offering gifts to contributors, in the same way public television offers tote bags and other goodies during its periodic pledge drives. There is some dry humor involved.
For example, for a $100 contribution, the donor receives an "inert grenade paperweight" plus a DVD copy of the film and a digital download of the movie.
The key word there is inert.
"We didn't want to blow up anybody," Warman said.
Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.
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