In Our View: Preparing the Forest

Camp Bonneville cleanup is settling into a period of stability and progress

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With many more fits than starts, the cleanup of 3,840-acre Camp Bonneville in east Clark County became a subject of great torment and fiscal confusion for local, state and federal officials from 2006 to 2009. But for the past five months, the monumental task of removing untold numbers of munitions from the old Army artillery range has settled into a period of relative stability. It's still hard work, but both the Army and the ordnance-removal experts seem to have a better handle on the situation.That's good news for Clark County residents who are eager to see the mostly forested area turned over to public use. Among the possible uses are an RV camping site, equestrian center, amphitheater and myriad other open space activities.

Unfortunately, that eagerness by the public is tempered by a long timeline established by the project team. A local resident born today probably will be in the second grade before the Camp Bonneville cleanup's completion, currently projected for 2019. And even that timeline is uncertain because the experts are unsure how much ordnance — spent and live (about 1 percent) — is buried at the site that was pounded by artillery training for 86 years.

Weston Solutions Inc. has spent these five months compiling a much better track record than its predecessor, assigning about 30 experts to meticulously scan the area for underground anomalies, then plant hundreds of small flags and carefully dig up spots where bombs or other munitions are suspected. The Army is paying Weston $7 million for Phase 1, which includes 449 acres of the valley floor. Three phases are to follow and, according to Clark County officials, the Army will pay for all four phases.

Compare that progress to the debacle that stretched from 2006 to 2009. The Army had agreed to pay project leader Mike Gage $28.6 million to clean up the entire camp, but the contractor and Army officials became locked in a dispute over the complexity of the task and how the money was being spent, and the county terminated the contract in May 2010.

The project is proceeding more smoothly now, as Erik Hidle reported in Saturday's Columbian. Weston has a limited-scope contract, and the county has more control over spending at the site. If Phase 1 proceeds satisfactorily, the county can exercise the option to hire Weston for more work. Cost estimates already are being prepared for Phase 2.

Certainly, Weston has a tough task. They're digging up "a little bit of everything here," said project manager George Overby, "from 14.5 mm rounds up to the big 105 mm (ammunition)." The company puts only the best on the job; all workers are ex-military specialists in explosive ordnance disposal.

Although the public won't fully realize the benefits of this cleanup project for many years to come, the ultimate reward will be a handsome addition to the local array of parks. These are 3,840 of the most beautiful acres in the county, waiting just a couple of miles northeast of Green Mountain Golf Course to provide enjoyment to the public. Let us hope Weston and county and Army officials continue this more stable path toward completion of the project.