You still have to pass through a gate to enter the site, but that is because most of it is vacant. Rows of corn grow where buildings containing hundreds of tons of deadly VX nerve agent once stood. Eight concrete and steel bunkers where the chemicals were moved after 9/11 still stand, but they are empty and available for rent.
"We have the availability of 200 megawatts of electricity; we are between two interstates, 70 and 74, on a four-lane highway 63. We have had a lot of interest from companies that really need this kind of a site," said Bill Laubernds, executive director of the Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority, which is marketing the 11-square-mile site as the Vermillion Rise Mega Park.
For prospective tenants worried about any leftovers, the Pentagon offers a free cleanup warranty in case any hazardous chemicals are found.
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The snapshots of the site in 1997 and today belie a long and difficult process that officials and experts say is proof that eliminating chemical weapons in Syria—which is supposed to be done by mid-2014 under a framework agreement between the U.S. and Russia—is much easier said than done.
Syrian President Bashar Assad suggested as much in an interview with Fox News on Sept. 18. "I think it's a very complicated operation technically, and it needs a lot of money. Some have estimated about a billion for the Syrian stockpile," Assad said.
He also questioned the feasibility of destroying the stockpile in a matter of months as called for under the agreement. "It needs a year, maybe a little bit less or a little bit more," he said.
Based on the U.S. experience, he may not be far off. The Defense Department has spent an estimated $40 billion and counting on chemical weapons destruction since 1997. The Newport depot held about 4 percent of the original stockpile.
"It is complicated, it needs a lot of coordination to do it safely and it is a challenging effort," Laubernds said.
In the case of Newport, the process actually dates back to 1969, during the height of the Vietnam War, when President Richard Nixon unilaterally renounced the first use of chemical weapons by the United States. "By the examples we set here today, we hope to contribute to an atmosphere of peace and understanding between all nations," Nixon said.
Immediately, 1,000 tons of VX nerve agent—all of which was manufactured at Newport—essentially became trapped at the facility. The depot's mission changed from maintaining the stockpile and keeping it ready for battle to safely storing it, perhaps indefinitely.
(Read more: US, Russia agree on Syria chemical weapons plan)