In Our View: The Herd Moves?

Camp Bonneville cleanup could resume after county, Army reach new agreement



The slumbering cats known collectively as the Camp Bonneville cleanup project have been nudged awake … again. That’s great news for local residents who are eager to see the cats herded so the former Army artillery range can be converted into a regional park.

The wake-up call came Tuesday night as Clark County commissioners approved an agreement calling for the Army to pay $20 million in the next 20 years to remove “munitions of explosive concern” and other contaminants.

There’s more good news. Public Works spokesman Jeff Mize said Tuesday county officials will soon solicit bids for the cleanup. Based on preliminary inquiries from contractors, there will be plenty of competition for the work, and it will be “pedal to the metal” on a project that could take five to seven years.

That timing could work in the favor of county officials who for now are in no-parks-building mood. But as we’ve editorialized often during the downturn, the most efficient public officials are visionary. They position themselves for rapid progress in the distant future. If and when the recovery hits full stride, Clark County could have Camp Bonneville cleaned and ready for that expansionist movement for local parks.

Now for the wet blanket, one that’s soaked in skepticism: We’ve called this project cat herding because numerous stakeholders at local, state and federal government levels should have gotten this work done years ago. Until the cats show more signs of cooperating, we’ll remain in the believe-it-when-we-see-it mind set.

The Army already has paid $28.6 million into this project, much of it blown through by a 2006 nonprofit contractor who stopped work after discovering far more munitions debris than was anticipated. And the Army has been slow to negotiate a second contract. But, perhaps to the credit of persistent county officials, or perhaps because the Army remembered its duty to clean up its own mess, new signs of progress are seen.

This new contract will differ from the 2006 blunder in a couple of ways. Instead of falling prey to the unexpectedly excessive munitions debris, this new project will call for a contractor to undertake specific tasks. The staff report from the county’s prosecuting attorney’s office notes: “For example, the County will conduct a sub-surface clearance of 445 acres of property and will remove a specific amount of stockpiled contaminated dirt.” Short and simple, worded for the herd.

Specific areas at the site are targeted “for the cleanup of the central valley floor, a portion of the western slopes and the removal of stockpiles of contaminated soil.”

Another difference in this new project: The county (and not the contractor) will own the property and serve as contract manager. That’s good; making it better is the fact that the Army will pay for the county’s oversight and management of the property and project.

So now we’re back to where we should’ve been all along: the Army paying for the project, the county taking charge of the activities, multiple contractors competing for the work, and county officials using that competitive environment to enhance the chances of a thorough and proper completion of the project.

Kudos to county officials who pushed hard for this agreement, particularly chief civil deputy prosecutor Bronson Potter. We hope all parties now can move swiftly, and even our lingering believe-it-when-we-see-it apprehension is now offset by the crack of a new whip. Let’s see how smoothly the herd meanders together.