HERMISTON - He only lived here for three months, but Jerry Russell said that he'd have "absolutely no reservations" about living in any of the towns near the Umatilla Chemical Depot.
Russell, a retired major with the Oregon State Police, has been the eyes and ears for the governor's office regarding projects to prepare people for a disaster during the upcoming incineration of the depot's 3,717 tons of chemical weapons. Incineration should begin in early 2002.
Russell said education on precautions and procedures to protect the area is the key to quelling fear about the disposal of the slowly degrading weapons. In his three months here, Russell has had ample time to scrutinize the different sides of the puzzle, from both the public perspective and from the agencies involved.
After three months of scrutiny, he feels safe.
"I would have absolutely no reservations about living in any one of these communities," Russell said Monday.
Russell's assignment ended today, after a hefty report evaluating the many safety preparations was released. The findings weren't available at press time.
Though he hadn't seen the report on Monday, Russell said he was encouraged by the changes he's seen since February. Improvements include better communications between the agencies involved and the imminent distribution of the tone alert radios, which may begin today.
"I think the community of interest is such that everybody I've met with on this has a real desire to make this thing work and be a successful program, and I think it's getting there," he added.
Russell has met about every two weeks with Ron Ruecker, the OSP superintendent, to report his observations. Ruecker will soon pass Russell's final oral report to the governor's office.
Russell's appointment came after several unexplained incidents, including a false activation of the emergency sirens in late December. Russell didn't downplay the enormity of what must be done to prepare for an unlikely accident at the depot, or the frustration felt by many people regarding the project. But he still expressed optimism for the future of the incineration program and the safety precautions surrounding it.
Smiling, he said he'll miss working so closely on the project and will keep an eye on it after returning home.
"I'm certainly interested in this project, but at the same time I have very little doubt that the project is going to be successful," Russell said.