The facility responsible for destroying toxic and dangerous munitions at the 72-year-old Umatilla Chemical Depot is now being demolished itself.
Crews started dismantling the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility Thursday, a major milestone in shutting down the Army’s former weapons storage base that once housed several thousand tons of deadly nerve and blister agent.
Built in 2004, UMCDF finished processing the depot’s expansive stockpile of bombs, rockets and spray tanks in October 2011. Officials spent nearly two years working with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality cleaning the Munition Demilitarization Building and testing for residual agent.
DEQ finally authorized the demolition in a letter received Wednesday, allowing Northwest Demolition of Tigard to begin the teardown. The project is expected to finish in February, and UMCDF will conduct further testing for final closure of the depot by 2015.
Hal McCune, protocol manager for URS Corporation — the company hired to build, operate and now close UMCDF — said it is an exciting if not bittersweet time for remaining staff.
“I’m happy we’re at this point, but I’m a little sad, too,” McCune said. “It was an exciting project to be a part of. It’s the end of an era.”
Support buildings will be preserved for the Umatilla Army Depot Reuse Authority, which is in charge of planning future use of the land. The local authority, composed of representatives from Umatilla and Morrow counties, the ports of Umatilla and Morrow and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, hopes to set aside 3,150 acres for industrial business development and 5,600 acres as a wildlife refugre.
The U.S. Department of Defense is also projected to transfer ownership of 7,500 acres to the Oregon National Guard for training citizen-soldiers.
Members of both the Umatilla and Morrow county planning commissions met Monday in Hermiston to discuss future zoning of the depot, and opportunities to lure in economic development such as data centers or warehousing. But the Army cannot transfer the property until deconstruction is complete.
The depot was created in 1941 in anticipation of World War II, and stored chemical weapons from 1962 until the mid-1980s, when Congress directed the Army to dispose of the nation’s aging stockpile. In 1988, the depot was placed on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission list.
Enter UMCDF, which destroyed 220,604 munitions and approximately 3,720 tons of chemical agent in seven years.
“We want people to be proud of the job we did, while protecting the public and environment while we did it,” McCune said.
Gary Anderson, the Army’s site project manager, lauded DEQ and workers’ efforts in an announcement, calling it “truly an amazing day for UMCDF.” Mark Evans, URS senior vice president of ordnance and management solutions, called DEQ approval “the linchpin to unlocking the completion of closure.”
The facility has about 170 employees, scaled back from more than 800 at the height of operations.
Contact George Plaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4547.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.