Future of Umatilla Chemical Depot considered

  • A line of storage igloos at the Umatilla Chemical Depot on Oct. 8, 2014
    (E.J. Harris/East Oregonian, file)

By Jade McDowell East Oregonian

HERMISTON — As the Columbia Development Authority waits to receive the former Umatilla Chemical Depot from the U.S. Army, major questions remain about how to best serve industrial portions of the property.

An infrastructure subcommittee formed this fall is studying how to lay the groundwork for roads, water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, fiber internet and more to prepare portions of the former 17,000-acre depot for development.

“We only want to touch the ground once,” CDA Executive Director Greg Smith said. “We don’t want to lay water line only to have to pull it back out later.”

The CDA was granted $7 million for roads, and the Port of Umatilla got another $2 million as part of the Oregon Legislature’s 2017 transportation package. But, Smith said, there are a lot of options for spending that money. Over the next six months, the subcommittee will consider options for accessing the depot by road.

Outside of the transportation package, the CDA doesn’t have a lot of money to work with so far.

Although a National Guard training facility is located on part of the site, Smith said the Oregon Military Department cannot share water lines or other infrastructure with civilian projects for security reasons.

Kim Puzey, director of the Port of Umatilla and chair of the infrastructure subcommittee, said Smith, who is also a state legislator in addition to his private economic development work, cautioned the committee that it likely will not get more money from the Legislature beyond the road funds. So Puzey traveled to Washington, D.C., to seek options for federal funding.

“We’re assuming (the state) is a no, so we’re trying to find a yes somewhere else,” he said.

Puzey said the CDA discussed possible revenue sources, such as renting out the depot’s 1,000 concrete igloos as storage units. Another option, he said, would be to look for government agencies and private companies to take on debt upfront and pay it down over time with revenue.

He said different potential users, such as food processors or data centers, would have different needs, so the CDA must determine the types of investments it wants to attract.

Puzey and Smith said the committee’s two meetings have attracted a variety of partners, from Eastern Oregon Telecom to the cities of Umatilla and Hermiston.

Smith said the public should not expect the depot to be transformed overnight — attracting, negotiating and constructing industrial projects takes years, sometimes decades.

On the other hand, Puzey said, promising discussions have taken place, and he called the property at the intersection of two interstates “special.”

“I don’t know of an industrial property so well-situated in the Western United States,” he said.

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