Walden: Progress on Umatilla Chemical Depot closing

Greg Walden helps secure language to close Umatilla depot under BRAC – passage into law expected by end of the year
By Congressman Greg Walden

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) announced that he helped secure language in upcoming legislation that allows the Umatilla Chemical Depot to close under conditions the community had long prepared for, ensuring that economic development and other uses for the land can move forward as planned.

The breakthrough overrules a decision made by a Pentagon official in May. The official concluded that because the destruction of weapons would go on past the expiration of the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) law, the depot would instead be closed under different protocols that would have upset years of careful balance by various community stakeholders.

“The people of Umatilla and Morrow counties have spent more than 20 years and invested more than $1 million in taxpayer money to plan for the future of the Umatilla Chemical Depot’s 20,000-acre facility. Working together, local community leaders developed a plan that is fair to all sides,” Rep. Walden said.

“However, one lawyer in the Pentagon nearly upended all that work through his interpretation of the law. When informed of this change over the summer, I—along with Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley—worked in a bipartisan way with defense and appropriations leaders in Congress to that ensure the Umatilla depot is closed as long planned.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that legislation that both chambers of Congress will vote on as soon as this week includes a provision to close the Umatilla depot under the BRAC process, ensuring that the future of the site will be determined by the local community.”

The language, which ensures that the depot will be closed under the BRAC process, was included in the larger National Defense Authorization Act, which is expected to be passed into law by the end of the year.

On June 23, 2011, Rep. Walden, along with Senators Wyden and Merkley, wrote to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates requesting a review of the Pentagon’s decision to reverse course on more than 20 years of local planning. Rep. Walden spoke personally about the issue with Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Bill Young, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson.

Planning for the closure of the depot dates back to 1990, when Governor Neil Goldschmidt appointed the “Umatilla Depot Task Force,” a group charged with making a master plan for the use of the Depot after it is closed.

At the request of the Department of the Army, in 1994 a Local Reuse Authority (LRA) was organized to administer the transition from military to civilian use under the BRAC process.

On July 20, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment to an appropriations bill to close the depot under BRAC — however, that bill has not been signed into law.

On October 25, the last container of weapons was destroyed at the depot.

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