Tensions rise 
as new delays
expected on
depot transfer

Congressman Greg Walden, center, gestures while asking a question while on a tour of the Umatilla Army Depot with the Columbia Development Authority in May 2016 west of Hermiston.

The Oregon National Guard has its portion of the former Umatilla Chemical Depot, but nobody knows when the rest of the property will be transferred to local control for economic development.

Frustration was palpable on a meeting via conference call between members of the Columbia Development Authority board (made up of representatives from Umatilla County, Morrow County, the Port of Umatilla, Port of Morrow and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation) as they discussed additional roadblocks that have come up.

“It just continues to be one lost opportunity after another,” board member Kim Puzey said, referring to interested developers who have gone elsewhere due to the delays.

The U.S. Army’s Base Realignment and Closure office was at one point expected to transfer land to the CDA for industrial and agricultural development and a wildlife preserve in 2013, but that deadline has since moved several times, most recently to November 2018.

During Tuesday’s meeting, however, CDA director Greg Smith reported that the Environmental Protection Agency had changed its mind and decided to require a Class A permit for hazardous waste disposal under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Smith said he thought that process would likely create a four to seven-month delay.

Tom Lederle of the Army’s BRAC office was more optimistic, saying he thought they could work on the RCRA permit at the same time as other outstanding issues with the transfer and it would not create a long delay.

“We were very surprised when the EPA made this demand at the 11 and a half hour,” he said.

Michele Lanigan, also of BRAC, said they had made a plan for permits with the state three years ago and the EPA had been on board with it, but a recent personnel change in the EPA’s Region 10 had seemed to prompt the change in direction.

Lederle said sometimes people look at something like the depot transfer and decide it’s so important it needs more public process.

“There’s been a public process for 29 years. Don’t tell me it needs more,” Gary Neal replied. “How many more years does it need?”

“Probably 100 years, at the rate we’re going,” someone on the call remarked.

Smith said he planned to take a trip to Washington, D.C. on March 11 to lobby on behalf of the CDA, and he would work to find the “highest person in the EPA I can get” to meet with and ask for help in speeding along the process.

The CDA has also been facing delays over the programmatic agreement, which deals with cultural and historical preservation. The former depot contains areas of historical significance, such as a piece of the Oregon Trail, as well as areas of religious and cultural significance to the tribes. Smith said he was trying to find a “fair and reasonable” way to balance those concerns with maintaining the CDA’s ability to develop portions of the depot for industrial use as agreed upon years ago.

“I think there is a compromise that can be reached, but it really requires everyone to come to the middle,” he said. “If we dig in our heels I think we’re going to come to an impasse.”

The Oregon Military Department’s 7,500 acre portion of the 19,728-acre depot was transferred to the department in November for creation of an Oregon National Guard training facility, but the remainder of the land is still under the Army until the transfer to the CDA takes place.

———

Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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