If money was not an issue, it would be nice to see an additional $3 million put into local street improvements in Hermiston to streamline evacuation routes in case of a disaster at the Umatilla Chemical Depot.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency already has spent $4.5 million on the project, which has included upgrading traffic signals and widening streets along an evacuation route planned for residents living near the depot.

FEMA is now balking at providing the $3 million needed for phase III of the project. While that would increase evacuation time for some Umatilla and Morrow county residents, the risk would be negligible compared to the cost, according to a draft risk analysis report undertaken by FEMA.

And the reality is money is an issue. As taxpayers we should want the expenditure of every federal tax dollar - and certainly a sum as hefty as $3 million - to be carefully scrutinized. It's easy to criticize federal government spending when it's happening 3,000 miles away. It's a lot tougher when it's happening in our back yard. But it deserves the same attention.

Remember, based on previous risk-management studies, residents in communities surrounding the Umatilla Chemical Depot already are less likely to die from an accidental release of chemical agent than they are of being struck by lightning.

Remember, too, that millions of dollars already have been poured into pressurizing schools; shelter-in-place kits; emergency response vehicles, suits and equipment; high-tech communication systems and medical response capabilities.

And much already has been done to improve evacuation routes. Work on the streets to improve traffic flow started in March 2003, and all traffic signals in Umatilla and Hermiston are now linked by a computerized program and closed-circuit television. Three intersections are also being upgraded to meet U.S. Department of Transportation standards: Highland Avenue and Highway 395, Highway 395 and Highway 730, and Elm Street and Diagonal Road.

The destruction of chemical weapons has been under way for years in Utah and Alabama, and for about three months near Hermiston. There have been no life-threatening accidents, and it's highly unlikely there ever will be.

Considering all that, it's fair to question if another $3 million in road upgrades, parking and signage in the Hermiston area is the best use of taxpayer dollars.

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