Controversy sparks over plan section deemed ‘offensive’
BOARDMAN, OREGON -- The Local Reuse Authority for the Umatilla Chemical Depot on Thursday gave its blessing to the 1,186-page reuse plan, but not without some drama.
The discussion leading up to the vote proved more interesting than the decision itself. That's because representatives of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation recommended in communications before the meeting deleting a U.S. Army attorney's 1990 opinion stating the Tribes had no legal rights to depot land. Don Chance of the Dana Mission Support Team, who wrote that section of the plan, said he included it for historic context.
"It's irrelevant to the plan," stressed Rod Skeen, a tribal representative. "It's offensive. It's out of context... I don't think it's going to add value to the plan."
Bill Dana, president of Dana Engineering, suggested removing both the reference to the Tribes' 1855 treaty with the United States and the Army attorney's opinion.
A lengthy discussion ensued. Carl Scheeler, another tribal representative, said the Army lawyer's opinion was "clearly contentious" and didn't belong in the document.
"My view is we leave it all in or take it all out," said
George Anderson, a Hermiston attorney who's been involved with the base closure for more than 20 years.
"It seems a lot more provocative than historical," said Kim Puzey, representing the Port of Umatilla.
Skeen added, "The Army's relinquishing ownership of it. Their opinion doesn't matter."
After several motions and amendments, the group finally settled on how the wording would change and voted 10-0-1 to change it with Scheeler abstaining.
He said later he'd been instructed to support only the Tribes' original editing recommendation.
Nevertheless, Scheeler called the decision to approve the voluminous plan an historic moment. LRA Chairman Bill Hansell of Umatilla County said the one-year effort has cost about $750,000 with 90 percent coming from the federal government and 10 percent from LRA members, Morrow and Umatilla counties, the ports of Morrow and Umatilla, and the CTUIR. Most of those funds went to the Dana Mission Support Team, which gathered information, conducted the meetings and wrote the two-volume reuse plan.
In other business Thursday, the LRA appointed a Business Plan Committee to prepare a grant application to the U.S. Department of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment. The committee will comprise Skeen, Puzey, Lisa Mittelsdorf of the Port of Morrow, Carla McLane of Morrow County and Connie Caplinger of Umatilla County.
It will request federal funding to transition the planning LRA into an implementation LRA, which will continue meeting, possibly with different players, as the actual disbursement of the depot's real and personal property draws closer.
Rick Solander, OEA project manager from Sacramento, Calif., explained what's expected to transpire once the LRA submits the reuse plan to the Army and the homeless component to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
He said HUD has 60 days to review the plan, but might not achieve that goal.
"They're really backlogged right now," he said.
The Army's review will take longer, he said, because it must include environmental reviews, which could mean either a shorter environmental assessment or a more extensive environmental impact statement. That could extend the process another year, Solander said.
Skeen pointed out that the plan recommends leaving the demilitarization site rather than demolishing it as its permits require.
In any case, Chance said, the Army will not transfer any property until the demilitarization contractor destroys all chemical weapons. That's not expected to be completed until the spring of 2012.