A memorandum of agreement between the Columbia Development Authority and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation puts the former Umatilla Chemical Depot one step closer to local control.

The agreement lays out plans to preserve areas of cultural, historical and religious significance within the former depot. After months of negotiations it was approved by the CDA board in April and approved by the CTUIR board this week.

Chuck Sams, communications director for the CTUIR, said the board of directors was pleased to move forward with the memorandum and was looking forward to working with the CDA to preserve those significant areas.

The agreement lays out agreements for the CTUIR to manage the wildlife habitat portion of the property, including access to needed water rights and roads.

It states that the CTUIR and CDA will work together to preserve a site of religious importance to the tribes and preserve historically significant areas such as sections of the Oregon Trail.

Greg Smith, executive director of the CDA, said having the local partners come to an agreement is a “major step” in wrapping up transfer of the land. The final barrier is getting the State Historical Preservation Office to approve the terms of the agreement, after which attorneys will draw up the final transfer papers.

“After the SHPO issue there’s nothing left for (the CDA) to complete,” he said.

Smith said both sides’ attorneys have been involved in the process and there hasn’t been an indication that SHPO or the attorneys will hold things up. Smith, who serves as CDA director as part of his private economic development business but is also a state legislator, said he plans to have the Army work with SHPO to avoid any conflicts of interest.

The Army finished incinerating the depot’s chemical weapons and closed the depot in 2012, with plans to transfer the depot to local control by 2015. Negotiations about issues such as water rights, along with the Army’s slow-moving bureaucracy, have delayed the transfer ever since.

A 7,500-acre portion of the former depot has already been turned over to the Oregon Military Department for use as a National Guard training facility. Once the transfer papers are signed, the rest will be split between a 5,700-acre wildlife refuge managed by the CTUIR and nearly 4,000 acres of industrial, commercial and agricultural land managed by the CDA.

Reporter

Reporter covering city government and economic development in Hermiston, Umatilla, Stanfield and Echo.

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