Wyden, Merkley, Walden Urge Army to Finish Cleanup at Umatilla Chemical Depot

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden today urged the Army to complete its commitment to remediate the now-closed Umatilla Chemical Depot so the National Guard can use the site safely for training and wildfire work in Eastern Oregon.

In a bipartisan letter today to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, the Oregon lawmakers wrote the Army is required to clean up the Ammunition Disposal Area (ADA) at the chemical depot under federal law and as directed by agreements with federal and state authorities.

“Even so, the Army now appears to be walking away from its obligation,” the lawmakers wrote.  “Doing so would limit the Oregon National Guard’s ability to use this land for training but more than that, it would limit the Guard’s ability to put out wildfires on the land and endanger those who live in the area—particularly since munitions have now been found on neighboring private property.”

The letter noted that the Army opened a depot at Umatilla in the early 1940s, storing chemical weapons and other munitions and supplies over the next half century.  The Army closed the depot in 2012 with plans to transfer 7,500 acres to the Army National Guard for use by the Oregon National Guard.  Those 7,500 acres include the ADA—roughly 1,730 acres that the Army used to dispose of “ordnance and other solid wastes by burning, detonation, dumping, or burial.” 

The letter comes in response to the Army informing the lawmakers it will stop remediation because it will require more work than expected and there’s not enough money to do the job even though Defense Department guidance gives priority to projects that pose a risk to the health and safety of communities.

“We simply reject the idea that the Army cannot afford to properly clean up the potentially-deadly mess it made at Umatilla,” Wyden, Merkley and Walden wrote. “We hope it is also clear to the Army that with a contractor on site now, it will cost much less to continue this work than it will to wind down and restart this process at some future date.”

In addition to Wyden, Merkley and Walden, the letter also was signed by U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Dean Phillips (D-MN)

The entire letter is here.

A web version of this release is here.