December 15, 2011

Congress Passes, Sends to President, Wyden-Merkley Amendment to Close Umatilla Chemical Depot Under BRAC Process

Washington, D.C. – The Congress today sent President Obama a Defensive Authorization Bill that includes an amendment by Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley that guarantees closure of the Umatilla Army Chemical Depot under the previously agreed upon base-closure process.

If signed by the President, the bill will short circuit an 11th-hour Pentagon attempt to ignore the Base Realignment and Closure Authority and keep the Depot in federal ownership.

“The Senate’s action on the amendment Senator Merkley and I offered means that 20 years of local planning and more than $1 million in federal funds will not go to waste and that surrounding communities -- working with state and federal agencies -- will have the opportunity to make sure the property is used to improve the local economy,” Wyden said.

“It was outrageous that the Pentagon was going to ignore decades of local planning and keep the land under federal control,” said Merkley. “Thankfully, today’s legislation will put an end to that effort. Now, the community will decide going forward how this land can be used for their best benefit.”

Last June, the Defense Department’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) decided that the 20,000-acre Depot should not be closed under the BRAC authority once destruction of the chemicals stored at the facility was completed and that, instead, it should be closed under looser authority that would deprive the local community of any say in the future of the land and assistance in recovering lost jobs.

In a letter to then Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Wyden, Merkley and the rest of the Oregon delegation said: “To try to use the BRAC statute to keep (the Depot) in federal hands and waste more than $1 million is shameful. We hope that you will review the OGC’s decision, and, finding that it was based on several false assertions, overrule it and allow the closure of (the Depot) to continue under BRAC.”