December 08, 2011

Senate Tells Pentagon to Close Umatilla Chemical Depot Under BRAC Process

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate has adopted a resolution authored by Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley telling the Defense Department that  Umatilla Army Chemical Depot should be closed under the previously agreed upon base-closure process.

The resolution passed on Wednesday reads: “In light of the clear history, the Senate reiterates its original intent and reaffirms its direction that the closure of the Umatilla Army Chemical Depot, Oregon, and subsequent management and disposal shall be carried out in accordance with procedures and authorities contained in the Defense Base Closure and Realign Act of 1990.”

The resolution does not require House action.

“I plan to talk to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and make the case that the legal opinion that the Depot not be closed under BRAC be reviewed and reversed, particularly in light of this action by the Senate.” Wyden said. “Letting 20 years of work in getting the Depot into local hands go to waste is simply not an option. I’m confident Secretary Panetta will take the appropriate action.”

“It is outrageous that the Department of Defense intended to ignore the plan the community had worked on in good faith for so long. This is unacceptable,” Merkley said. “The Senate resolution sends a clear message that the plan must be followed, and I will do all I can in partnership with my colleagues to make sure that happens.”

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.”