End of an era for Eastern Oregon: Umatilla Depot celebrates "End of Operations"

<p>Lt. Col. Kris Perkins, Depot Commander, speaks during the "End of Operations Ceremony" for the Umatilla Chemical Depot and Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility.</p>

Local, state and federal dignitaries came out in Hermiston on Thursday to thank the employees at the Umatilla Chemical Depot and Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility for their part in completing operations.

The “Umatilla Chemical Weapons Stockpile End of Operations Ceremony” brought out a large crowd to mark the end of an era at the two facilities.

“This is always the day we looked forward to, when we could celebrate the end of the stockpile,” said Don Barclay, acting director of the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency. “You, the men and women of Team Umatilla, were the backbone of that success. It couldn’t have been done without your dedication.”

From 1941 to 2011, weapons were stored at the UMCD. IN 1962, they began adding chemical weapons to the stockpile.

In October 2011, the UMCDF destroyed the last of the weapons. Over the 10-year operation of the disposal facility, workers destroyed 3,720 tons of chemical agent, such as mustard agent and VX agent, and 220,604 munitions, including rockets, projectiles, mines and bombs. The stockpile represented 12 percent oft he nation’s chemical weapons.

During the ceremony, officials spoke of memorable events, such as the explosion at Igloo B-1014 that killed six workers in 1944, and the dedication of workers who came back to work at the UMCDF to make sure no chemicals were released after a tornado knocked out both power sources to the facility in 2006.

“It’s been said you can read about history or you can make it,” keynote speaker John Nerger said. “I happen to think Team Umatilla has made history.”

During the ceremony, three individuals were presented with plaques for their support toward completing the mission at the UMCD: Jane O’Keeffe, Oregon Environmental Quality Commission; Bill Hansell, Umatilla County Commissioner; and Terry Tallman, Morrow County Court.

Gary Anderson, site project manager for the disposal facility, was also surprised with an honor: The Army Meritorious Civilian Service Award.

The one standing ovation of the evening went to someone who has never worked at the Depot, however. That honor went to Sgt. Erik Gallanger, of Montesano, Wash., who chose THE evening for his second re-enlistment into the U.S. Army.“This was a great opportunity to bring my family out here, to let my wife and children see this and see some sign of how important it is,” Gallanger said. “That made it a really special event.”

Army operations are expected to end at the Depot in August. At that point, the Oregon Department of the Military will take over management of the facility until the LRA process is completed and land turned over to agencies listed in that agreement. A large portion of the Depot property, about 700 acres, will become a new National Guard training facility.

Although the LRA timeline continues to fluctuate, the target date for complete property turn-over is 2014.

Weapon destruction has been handled by URS Corporation and Washington Demilitarization Company, and workers continue to decontaminate and remove machines, piping and buildings in the plant. That process is expected to take two to three years.

“The Umatilla chapter is not yet over. The ending has not been written. We still have work to do,” Mark Evans, president of the Washington Demilitarization Company, said during the ceremony, adding he hopes to have the entire process completed safely and efficiently. “We will be able to say ‘it really is possible for a real-world story to have a happy ending.’”

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