HERMISTON - The moratorium continues.
At a press conference Thursday, Morrow County Judge Terry Tallman announced that Umatilla and Morrow county commissioners will continue their abeyance of participation in the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program multiagency meetings at least until a meeting with the head of Oregon Emergency Management on Feb. 14.
Tallman said the commissioners are concerned that the process of preparing local citizens for a possible emergency at the Umatilla Chemical Depot has become mired in bureaucracy. At the upcoming meeting, commissioners hope to discuss the managerial side of a system entailing three dozen agencies and companies, as well the moratorium and the budget recently approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The commissioners instituted the moratorium on Jan. 6 due to concerns about the system brought about from a false alarm of the siren alert system in late December. Five weeks after the false alarm, the commissioners said they feel progress has been made, but more needs to be done to revise the management structure of the system.
Counties must go through state and federal agencies to get funding for the safety projects, a point that frustrates Morrow County Commissioner Dan Brosnan.
"My concern is that ... this process is being driven from the top down," he said. "I feel it should drive from the bottom up."
And that's what must change for the moratorium to be lifted, said Umatilla County Commissioner Dennis Doherty. In general terms, he said the many agencies involved have too many ineffective meetings that waste both time and money, creating what he termed a "totally eclectic system." If the meetings are necessary, Doherty said, the various stakeholders need to be better aware of their responsibilities.
Doherty compared the management structure of emergency management to a glass of beer.
"I don't drink, but I have in the past," he began, "and occasionally I've gotten a cup that's all foam. I think if we were looking at a cup, we'd see all the foam and say, 'Where's the beer?'"
The commissioners also spoke to the recent announcement of the $4.9 million budget from FEMA, which is about $1 million short of what they sought.
Some of the things noted in the budget have been deferred for future consideration, a point the commissioners were unclear on.
"That still leaves us with some questions, such as 'What does deferment mean?' - we presented a needs-based budget," Doherty said.
Some items deferred or denied were:
*$250,000 to overpressurize the Umatilla Police Department.
*$150,000 to get seven weather stations around the area that would help predict the direction of the wind, thus alerting emergency officials to the direction of a possible plume from the depot.
*$190,000 for Morrow County items, including a mobile command post for emergency officials.
Still, the commissioners said they want to find ways to improve the system, and they are willing to work toward that end.
"At this point, I'm hopeful but I'm not ready to say I'm optimistic," Doherty said.