It may be later than expected, but the U.S. Army has submitted a draft agreement to transfer ownership of the former Umatilla Chemical Depot into local hands.
Members of the Columbia Development Authority met over the phone Tuesday to review the 22-page document, which director Greg Smith said marks a huge milestone.
“It means we’re in the home stretch of transferring the property,” Smith said.
However, Smith added the agreement was due by February, and delays have already cost the CDA millions of dollars in lost economic development over the past two years.
The latest timeline from the Army Base Realignment and Closure Division pushes the proposed transfer date back even further, from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1.
“This is an extraordinarily frustrating process,” Smith said.
The CDA plans to use a portion of the depot land for industrial development in Umatilla and Morrow counties. Smith said a number of industries have shown interest in the property, including data centers, animal feed producers, aggregate mining and four different national hotel chains.
But until the transfer is done, Smith said he is forced to put those companies on the back burner.
“We’re really hamstrung until the Army completes its work,” he said.
The CDA still has work to do as well. One of the last major hurdles is to figure out how the group will account for cultural and archaeological resources on site, including two branches of the Oregon Trail that cross the depot.
Smith outlined a proposal to preserve 50-100 yard stretches of both roads and build kiosks to educate the public about their historical importance.
“We believe there is value in protecting and preserving a portion of these resources,” Smith said. “Where the Oregon Trail is undisturbed, we have said we’ll take those best pieces and set them aside for protection.”
The CDA also plans to allow hunting and gathering at Coyote Coulee, a portion of the property deemed significant by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Hunting will be opened to tribal members as well as the general public where Coyote Coulee enters the planned wildlife preserve, but not where it crosses into industrial areas.
“We have to be prudent,” Smith said.
Finally, Smith said the CDA plans to establish 30-yard buffers around a fire pit that was found within the industrial zone on the Umatilla County side, and a prehistoric thinning flake that was discovered on the Morrow County side. The artifacts may or may not be significant, but until they can be studied Smith said they will err on the side of caution.
The Army will convene a meeting in Mobile, Alabama to continue negotiating an agreement on cultural and historical resources. Smith said he will attend, along with representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and CTUIR.
In other news, Smith, who serves as a state legislator for the district where the CDA is located, said he was recently notified that the Army has been fined $21,600 by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for failing to submit a sampling report that verifies the land is clean and not contaminated.
The fine is for procedural — not environmental — violations, but Smith said it is another example of the Army not meeting its deadlines.
“The reason I share this is not to embarrass anyone,” he said. “We’re hoping that communication between the Army and DEQ will be enhanced.”
Linda Hayes-Gorman, DEQ Eastern Region administrator, wrote that the Army missed its submittal date “by a wide margin.” Michele Lanigan, who works with the Army’s Base Realignment and Closure office in Umatilla, said another division was responsible for that report.
Smith said he will push as hard as he can to avoid any further delays in getting the depot transferred to the CDA.
“We’re doing everything we can to move that conversation,” he said.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-966-0825.