Depot land is in big defense bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Defense Authorization Act, approved by the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday, contains an amendment that would have the U.S. Army finish remediating the condition of the Umatilla Chemical Weapons Depot and turning it over to the Columbia Development Authority.

“No later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this act, the secretary of the Army shall submit to Congress a plan to finish remediation activities … by not later than three years after such date of enactment,” the amendment states.

Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Elfering said that the discussion of turning the land back to the locals began 30 years ago. As a matter of fact, it’s taken so long that it’s further delayed by people at the Army’s Base Realignment and Closure Office retiring with new employees having to be brought up to speed.

Elfering retires as commissioner at the end of this month. He said neither he nor Port of Morrow Director Gary Neal thought it would take this long.

“He thought it would be completed by the time he retired and that didn’t happen,” Elfering said. “I thought it would certainly be done by the time I retired, and that isn’t happening. There have been untold numbers of people who have worked on this process and thought it would be done within their time and it just doesn’t seem to come through – but it will.”

The depot land is earmarked for use by the Oregon National Guard, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the counties and ports of Umatilla and Morrow. The defense bill now goes to the Senate.