IRRIGON - Power supply problems troubling the Umatilla Chemical Depot should be resolved early next week, at least for the short-term, Depot Commander Lt. Col. David Holliday reported to the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program Governing Board.

The group met Wednesday at Stokes Landing in Irrigon.

It seems birds are partly at fault for the interruptions in power this summer, Holliday said

Since July, the depot has been experiencing power surges and outages in its administrative area - the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, the plant that will soon begin burning the depot's supply of 7.4 million pounds of chemical weapons, has not been affected, as it runs off its own power supply. But CSEPP personnel have been concerned about interruptions in a software program that sends weather data to their safety center.

The data is needed constantly in order to accurately predict the direction of a plume of chemical agent, if a catastrophic accident happened at the depot, said Casey Beard, Morrow County's Emergency manager. Beard sent a letter in early August to the Department of Environmental Quality requesting that the DEQ look into the issue.

Details about what power outages have occurred, what equipment has been disrupted and the steps taken to prevent further outages should be provided to the Department of Environmental Quality by Tuesday, said Dennis Murphey, DEQ's administrator for its chemical demilitarization program.

In the meantime, Holliday said he believes he has the problem in hand.

"There's a lot of wildlife on the depot, and what's happening is that birds are landing on the wires," he said.

Although normally that wouldn't be an issue, he said certain electrical switches aren't responding to the birds' disruption of the wires. He added that the depot is still on its original power grid, built in 1942. Upgrades to the system have been made over the years, but since 2001, the depot has added a significant number of personnel.

"It's interesting to note that we've had a 7 percent growth a year on average in our power usage," he said.

He said that while replacing the faulty switches will be a temporary solution, it is likely that the depot will need to build a separate power grid in the long-term.

He also said he doesn't expect the power issue to be a reason for further delay of the start up of incineration operations at the UMCDF, which is expected to begin burning rockets as early as next week. A separate issue was the reason for his decision, along with other senior management, to delay start up until next week.

"The loss of commercial power has not hindered the facility's ability to do its core function," Holliday said.

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