Camp Bonneville cleanup is still stalled for talks

Army, county trying to divide responsibility

By Erik Robinson, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Army and Clark County officials are trying to forge a new agreement for converting a former artillery range into a future county park.

photo

Next month marks a year since Clark County sidelined its primary cleanup contractor after the removal of unexploded ordnance stalled over cost overruns and funding disputes. In 2006, the Army provided $28.6 million under a fixed-price contract.

The county’s contractor found and removed hundreds of unexploded munitions, but much remains to be done.

The Army greatly underestimated the environmental pollution and extent of old munitions on the 3,840-acre site in east Clark County. County officials said they are negotiating with Army representatives on what it will cost to finish the cleanup.

“We need to know the money’s there before we have people go to work on making a proposal,” said Jerry Barnett, the county’s project manager for Camp Bonneville.

Barnett said the first order of business will be subsurface cleanup, down to 14 inches, in the central valley floor where planners anticipate most of the public use will occur. That might cost $12 million, Barnett said, with another $10 million needed for cleanup elsewhere around the former military training ground.

But he said those costs are merely guesses at this point.

“It’s something we’re working through with the Army right now,” Barnett said.

Army officials have vowed to provide the county with the resources it needs to finish the cleanup. The county previously ceded control of the cleanup to its prime contractor, Bonneville Conservation Restoration and Renewal Team, which operated under a fixed-price contract. The contractor later drew attention and criticism for its lavish entertainment and travel expenses.

Now, the county is negotiating a more straightforward contract based on time spent and munitions removed.

“The county will have a much more active role this time around,” Barnett said.

That’s what one critic is afraid of.

Dvija Michael Bertish, a local environmentalist who petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take over the cleanup, said he’s worried that the county is stepping into a legal morass.

“The whole thing could sit there and languish,” Bertish predicted. “In the end, it’s going to become a battle about liability.”

County officials flatly dismiss this.

Barnett was asked about the risk of the county’s finding itself on the hook for contaminants left behind by the Army.

“Zero,” he said.

Barnett and other county officials said Bronson Potter, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor, has erected a legal wall segregating the county from any liability for the Army’s 85-year imprint on the site.

Meanwhile, the EPA is continuing to move ahead with its own assessment of the site.

Harry Craig, senior remediation project manager for the EPA in Portland, said the agency will conduct field visits and drill test wells this summer as it decides whether to list Camp Bonneville as a federal Superfund site. The EPA walked away from project oversight in 2003, specifically citing the Army’s inability or unwillingness to properly investigate the extent of pollution at the site.

Those concerns proved to have merit, Craig said.

“It’s obviously bigger than everybody realized to begin with,” he said.