Chemical weapons depot's future could be business

Chemical weapons depot's future could be business
A chemical operations crew from the Umatilla Chemical Depot separate rocket motor and warhead sections on nine M55 rockets that were sent to an Army lab in Picatinny, N.J., for propellant sampling and analysis.

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — The Umatilla Chemical Depot is preparing to transfer its more than 9,000 acres to local control, and businesses recruited to the site could be operating by 2014.

A land use analysis shows operating costs of $600,000 a year for the first seven years, The East Oregonian reported.

The Army has finished destruction of the last stores of chemical weapons kept at the depot, and the wide-open, grassy site in Eastern Oregon is now being refashioned with an eye toward making money.

It took more than seven years to destroy all the chemical weapons at the depot. Furnaces destroyed rockets, mines, spray tanks and containers. The last furnace was used to destroy protective suits, filters and other secondary waste.

About 525 employees continue to work at the plant. Closure work will continue through 2014.

Dave Tovey, authority chairman and executive director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said, local control of the site is too valuable not to pursue. Local entities have been discussing and fussing about the depot for the past 25 years, he said, vetting their concerns and finding solutions.

"It seems like finally, finally, after all that, we're down to real decision points," he said.

Federal money would cover some costs, including $500,000 over three years from the Economic Development Administration for marketing.

The transfer includes almost 9,500 acres of the site, including 3,150 for industrial development.

The Department of Defense will transfer 7,500 acres of land to the federal National Guard to own and manage as a training site for the Oregon National Guard.

The remaining acres will likely be handed by the Army to a local redevelopment authority.

Once the implementation authority has the lands, said reuse authority project manager Don Chance, it probably will hand them to the ports of Umatilla and Morrow. The ports have the experience and resources to market the site and recruit industry.

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Information from: East Oregonian