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March 3, 2024

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Camp Bonneville cleanup project nearly done

Public use envisioned following work of nearly two decades to clear explosives materials, hazardous waste left over from years of military use

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
4 Photos
Camp Bonneville as seen in 2012. Clark County expects the nearly two-decade cleanup of the site to be completed by March.
Camp Bonneville as seen in 2012. Clark County expects the nearly two-decade cleanup of the site to be completed by March. (The Columbian file photos) Photo Gallery

A cleanup project of “one to two” years at Camp Bonneville is nearing completion — nearly two decades later.

Clark County Public Works staff earlier this month provided an update to the county council on cleanup efforts at the former site of U.S. military live-fire exercises, which left behind extensive hazardous waste and explosive materials.

The final step — remediation of groundwater contamination — is more than 90 percent complete and should be finished by March, said cleanup program manager Greg Johnson of the county Public Works department.

Troops trained at the 3,840-acre property from 1909 to 1995. Several years later, the Army transferred ownership of the site to Clark County and agreed to pay for the cleanup of the large number of explosives.

“Originally, the Army thought we would be done with this cleanup in one to two years,” Johnson said. “That was 18 years ago.”

The Public Works department will soon begin the process of adopting a master plan for the site, which will include opportunities for public involvement. Nine activities approved for the site in its reuse plan include a regional park, law enforcement training centers and natural areas.

The FBI already operates a gun range there. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office announced in a news release this week that, effective Jan. 1, it will move its shooting range there from English Pit on Northeast 192nd Avenue, an area that has seen development in recent years.

Safety concerns

When the site does open to the public, roughly 500 acres of it will remain closed indefinitely due to the potential of undiscovered explosives. Johnson said that a five-strand barb wire fence, signs every 50 feet and locked entrances and exits will block the restricted area.

“Obviously, we can’t mitigate our risk down to a no-risk situation, especially not on a property like this,” said Bill Richardson of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. “But if we take reasonable and diligent efforts to warn and prohibit people from going into the hazardous areas, that’s about as much as the law is going to require and that’s about as much as we’re going to be able to do with this property.”

Out of about 4,000 acres of timberland, roughly 950 have been thinned, said Kevin Tyler of the county Public Works Parks and Lands Division. He added that the thinning will promote forest health and help slow the spread of any large wildfires, a concern among neighbors in recent years.

“We also see a reduction in fuel loading — the amount of fuel that can burn — and that reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire,” Tyler said.

Timber harvesting in the area has netted $2.5 million in revenue so far, which will partially fund redevelopment in the area.

“You can see with those operations, we can bring in some pretty substantial revenue,” Tyler said.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter