Army given ultimatum on Camp Bonneville cleanup

County says pay for it, or no contract renewal

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Clark County officials have given the Army a July 14 deadline to commit to continue paying for the extensive cleanup of Camp Bonneville.

Otherwise, the county will not renew a contract with the Army to oversee the cleanup, Commissioner Marc Boldt said Wednesday, and plans to use the property as a regional park may be put off indefinitely.

Boldt told Commissioners Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart that negotiations with the Army, which used the 3,840-acre site in east county as an artillery range and training area from 1909 to 1995, have stalled.

The multimillion-dollar cleanup, overseen by the state Department of Ecology, has crawled along and been marked by cost overruns and funding disputes.

Boldt said he has spoken to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and that she and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. and U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, will try and get the Army to agree to continue paying to clean up environmental pollution and old munitions.

In 2006, the Army provided $28.6 million under a fixed-price contract, and most of that money has been spent, said Bronson Potter, Clark County’s chief civil deputy prosecutor.

The county’s contractor found and removed hundreds of unexploded munitions, but also discovered that the Army had greatly underestimated how much work had to be done.

The Army also took issue with the county’s contractor, Mike Gage, for what it considered lavish entertainment and travel expenses.

Gage’s company, Bonneville Conservation Restoration and Renewal Team, has the title to the property, said Pete Capell, director of Clark County Public Works.

Last year, the county agreed on a one-year deal with the Army to come up with a new agreement. If the Army agreed to keep paying for the cleanup, the county would find a new contractor.

“The negotiations with the Army have always been difficult,” Capell said. But in the past year, talks had been going OK until the Army recently declared it would not pay a $2.5 million insurance deductible to remove lead.

Potter said seven of nine firing ranges have been cleaned up, but lead has been more pervasive than predicted.

One range has lead four feet underground, he said.

Both Capell and Potter stressed Wednesday that the county won’t pay to clean up the Army’s mess.

“The impasse that we’ve hit is that the Army will not provide the $2.5 million deductible, and we’re not going to pay $2.5 million,” Potter said.

“It’s not our responsibility to clean up their mess,” Capell said. “We don’t have the resources to do it in the first place.”

If the county washes its hands of the cleanup effort, Capell said the Department of Ecology would still go after the Army to clean up the land.

Under the current contract, after Camp Bonneville is cleaned to Ecology’s satisfaction it would be turned over to the county and be used as a regional park.

“At some point in time, it will still get cleaned up,” Capell said.

An attorney for Gage did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment, and Army officials in Washington, D.C. could not be reached.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.