July 20, 2011

Senate Passes Wyden, Merkley Amendment to Close Umatilla Depot under BRAC

The Amendment Added to Military Construction Appropriations Bill Protects 20 Years of Work by Local Residents

Washington, D.C. – In an effort to prevent the derailing of 20 years of planning by Eastern Oregon residents, the U.S. Senate today passed a bill which includes an amendment sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to close the Umatilla Army Depot under the previously agreed upon base closure process.

The Wyden-Merkley amendment to the Military Construction Appropriations bill overrules a determination by the Pentagon’s Office of General Counsel that the depot could not be closed under the congressionally approved Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) authority.  Closure under BRAC removes the property from military ownership and gives the community a much larger say in how the land is disposed of once the last of the chemical weapons stored there are destroyed, possibly in November.

The appropriations bill containing the amendment was passed by the Senate and will now be considered by a joint House and Senate Conference Committee to reconcile differences between the two bills.

“The communities near the Umatilla Weapons Depot have spent two decades and more than a million in federal dollars to decide how the land would best be used once the facility closes and it is unacceptable for the Pentagon to squander those plans at the last-minute through a twisting of the law,” Wyden said. “This amendment will protect the plans put forth by the community and make sure that the land is used in a way that will best benefit the residents of the area.”

“The Umatilla Chemical Depot land should be used to improve the economy of the region after the site is decommissioned, and with this amendment, we’re one step closer to making sure it will,” Merkley said.  “It makes no sense to set aside years of local planning.  The Local Reuse Authority has done a terrific job developing an agreement, and I look forward to seeing this plan put into motion.”

Since 1962, the Umatilla Army Depot has been the home of some of the military’s most dangerous and destructive chemical weapons. In the early 1990s, when it was clear that chemicals would be destroyed and the facility closed, the community created a task force charged with planning for the future of the land.

Under the plan agreed upon by local officials, part of the land will be used by the Oregon National Guard, part will be given to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and another part will be used for economic development.

In a letter to then out-going Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and incoming Secretary Leon Panetta, Wyden, Merkley and Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.) called for them to reverse the Office of General Counsel’s decision. Wyden later spoke directly with Secretary Panetta who voiced support for the amendment.