In Our View: Pay for the Cleanup

Camp Bonneville project must resume with commitment from Army officials

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Clark County commissioners remain correctly focused on a simple concept: Whoever made the mess at Camp Bonneville needs to clean it up. That would be the Army, which for eight decades used the 3,840-acre site in east county as an artillery range and training area. A dangerous mix of munitions remains buried on the grounds.

If only the cleanup were as simple as the concept. County leaders have been unable to convince Army officials that it’s long past time to agree on a new cleanup contract. This week the county commissioners got a little tougher; they gave recalcitrant Army officials a July 14 deadline to commit to continue funding the cleanup. “The negotiations with the Army have always been difficult,” said Pete Capell, director of Clark County Public Works, in a Thursday Columbian story. “It’s not our responsibility to clean up their mess. We don’t have the resources to do it in the first place.”

We’re glad the commissioners have set the deadline, and we hope the foot-dragging feds will respond to the political pressure. Once they resume cleaning up the mess they made, the largely forested area can become a county park. That conversion, of course, could take years, but if the county and the Army cannot reach agreement on a new contract, then a process that already has taken too long could be shelved even longer.

Five years ago the Army provided a $28.6 million fixed-price contract for cleaning up Camp Bonneville. Most of that money has been spent — or misspent, according to Army officials who complained about the expenses listed by the contractor. But rehashing old contract disputes is no way to get this stalled project back in motion. The latest sticking point is the Army’s reluctance to pay a $2.5 million insurance deductible for removing lead from the site. Earlier, the cleanup contractor complained that Army officials greatly underestimated how much work was needed.

It helps to remember that — because this is a federal problem — political pressure should come from more than just local leaders. County commissioners deserve strong support on this issue from U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, and U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas. We urge Murray and Herrera Beutler, especially, to lead this advocacy — Murray because of her close ties with many Army leaders (she’s chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee), and Herrera Beutler because Camp Bonneville is in the middle of her district.

This is the rookie congresswoman’s chance to make meaningful progress on an issue that’s exclusive to her constituents. We contacted Herrera Beutler’s office Thursday for a comment on the Camp Bonneville matter, and this was her statement: “The Army needs to fund this cleanup effort. I’ll work with my colleagues in the Senate to make that happen.”

Many Clark County residents will remember that second sentence. But fulfilling that promise will not be easy. In addition to nudging Pentagon officials into action, local leaders will have to work with the state Department of Ecology, which supervised the earlier cleanup project. And the title to the Camp Bonneville property is still owned by the cleanup company, Bonneville Conservation Restoration and Renewal Team.

As we noted in an April 28 editorial, there are a lot of cats to be herded here. Let the roundup begin with the Army stepping up to the plate and fulfilling its funding obligations.