June 23, 2011

Wyden, Merkley, Walden Urge Secretary of Defense to Close Umatilla Chemical Depot under BRAC, end Federal Ownership of the Facility

Washington, D.C. – Arguing that the Department of Defense’s 11th-hour attempt to keep the Umatilla Chemical Depot under federal ownership is “wasteful and counterproductive,” Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) today urged the Secretary of Defense to close the facility under the Base Realignment and Closure authority, as required by law.

Despite spending $1 million in federal funds to finance 20 years of local planning on what to do with the 20,000-acre facility in Umatilla County, the Defense Department’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) recently decided that the Depot should not be closed under the BRAC authority once destruction of the chemicals stored at the facility is completed this year – instead closing it under looser authority that would deprive the local community of any say in the future of the land and assistance in recovering lost jobs.

“This decision is not only wasteful and counterproductive, but is also counter to the letter and spirit of the BRAC statute,” the Oregon members of Congress wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The letter states that Congress created BRAC as a way to consolidate and realign military facilities and save taxpayer dollars.  “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,” the letter goes on to say.

In addition, Wyden, Merkley and Walden said they will seek a legislative change to eliminate any doubt of about the authority to continue the closure of the Depot under BRAC.

Under BRAC, the federal government provides aid to local communities affected by military base closures.  None of that assistance will be available if the facility is closed outside of the BRAC authority.

Since 1962, the depot has been home to some of the Army’s most dangerous chemical weapons. When it became clear that the weapons were going to be destroyed, the State of Oregon in 1990 created a regional task force to begin planning for the eventual closure of the facility.  In 2005, the closure of the Depot was included in the BRAC Commission’s recommendations that eventually became law.

Under the local plan, portions of the property will go to the Oregon National Guard for training uses, to the U.S. Fish and Wild Service as a wildlife refuge and to the ports of Umatilla and Morrow for economic development purposes.