HERMISTON - Calvin Garner, a young teenager, spun the wheel at the Umatilla County Fair and the marker landed on "the tough question."

"If you were in Hermiston and there was a chemical accident at the Umatilla Chemical Depot, tell me three ways you might find out," said Cheryl Siegal, a spokeswoman for Umatilla County's Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program.

Garner quickly rattled off two answers, TV and radio, and then he stopped. He scrunched up his face, glanced at his step-mother and then looked heavenward for the last of the right answers.

Siegal didn't let him wait long. "Did you know there are 70 outdoor sirens that will make lots and lots of noise?" she asked him, giving away the third answer as she handed him a white water bottle with the CSEPP phone number on it.

With the help of the water bottles, free Frisbees, jar openers, pill boxes and pens, Siegal has one primary goal in mind: To inform the communities living around the depot how they should react if something were to go wrong at the site where more than 7.4 million pounds of deadly nerve and blister agents are stored.

But despite the fact that the depot is nearing startup of a project to dispose of the weapons, she said she has seen little increase in fear of the depot, what it stores, and what the weapons' destruction means for the community.

"The biggest question I get is, 'When are you finally going to start?'" she said.

The answer? Very likely Wednesday.

That is, if the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission gives its approval Friday when it gathers in Hermiston for a special meeting at Good Shepherd Hospital.

The EQC has the final say on whether or not depot employees can begin incinerating the depot's stockpile of chemical weapons. It will hear from the Department of Environmental Quality and depot managers on whether the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility - the plant that will burn the weapons at temperatures more than 1,000 degrees - is ready to start.

So far, everything seems good to go, said Dennis Murphey, administrator for the DEQ's chemical demilitarization program. All outstanding issues have been resolved, including a permit modification guaranteeing workers' protection if they air concerns they have over the safety of the plant's operation. The change in the permit was required recently by a Portland judge as part of his decision in the case informally called "GASP III," in which opponents to the project sought to delay the incineration startup date.

At Friday's meeting, DEQ personnel will recommend the EQC approve the start of incineration operations at the depot.

With its request for a delay denied, GASP, the group opposing the start of such operations, planned to file an injunction this morning in Multnomah County Circuit Court, according to the group's attorney, Stuart Sugarman.

Meanwhile, those close to the project said anticipation is building up.

"We're excited and tired," Murphey said. "We've been working a lot of extra hours and days. But everyone's aware that we're on the verge. There's a great sense of anticipation that we're about to cross a major milestone."

"We see a lot of smiles around here," said Rick Kelley, spokesman for the Washington Demilitarization Company, the contractor operating the incineration facility. "There is excitement here, we want to get started."

"I'm tickled to death, personally," said Bob Severson, mayor of Hermiston. "I've always felt safe, but we are all going to be safer when it's done. The people are ready to see it incinerated."

The EQC will meet from 12:30-2 p.m. Friday at Good Shepherd Hospital, Room 5 to consider the start of chemical weapons incineration at the Umatilla Chemical Depot.

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