Letter: Delegation Concerned Over Depot Plans

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Depot Letter

[quote style=”2″]Wyden, Merkley, Walden Urge Hagel to Accept No-Cost Transfer[/quote]

Dear Secretary Chuck Hagel:

We are writing to express our strong concerns about reports that the U.S. Army may seek to charge the communities around Umatilla to receive property as part of the ongoing Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process at the Umatilla Army Depot in Hermiston, Oregon.

As you may know, folks in and around Umatilla endured more than 50 years of living with some of the most dangerous chemical weapons on earth in their backyard. Every time a family had to practice using a shelter in place kit or a town had an evacuation drill, they were reminded of the sacrifice their community was making in the name of national security. Our constituents have prided themselves on being patriots and good neighbors to the Army and now that the depot’s mission is complete, the Army needs to clean up any pollution they have caused and turn the land back over to the community at no cost, to be used for economic development.

It has been our understanding for years that the Army intended to convey these lands to the community at no cost. This was in recognition of the community allowing the Army National Guard to retain 7,500 acres of the land and in addition that closing the facility will save the military more than $80 million through the implementation period, according to the 2005 BRAC report.

In light of this, we were frankly very concerned to learn recently from local officials that the Army may now be planning to disallow a no-cost economic development conveyance and charge the community to receive these facilities and property. If accurate, this would be a terribly disappointing development in a process that has otherwise been a model for transfers under the BRAC process.

The Columbia Development Authority (CDA), the latest iteration of more than 20 years of community investment and planning, has worked in good faith with the BRAC officials, the government, the Oregon National Guard, and our offices. While the CDA is naturally concerned about any decision to charge the local communities, CDA officials have informed us that they would be willing to step up and purchase a 640-acre parcel if the balance of this property can be transferred under a under a no-cost economic development conveyance that abides by previous agreements.

In light of the substantial accommodations Oregonians living in and around Umatilla have already made in the name of national security and the substantial sum that closing these facilities will save the Department of Defense, we urge you to accept the CDA’s more-than-reasonable offer and to move forward quickly on a no-cost transfer — ideally by this summer.

Thank you for your attention to his matter.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, U.S. Sen. Jeffrey A. Merkley, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden