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June 26, 2022

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Clark County Council mulls veterans home at Camp Bonneville

Medvigy advances idea, says project aligns with need for more housing

By , Columbian staff writer

Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy would like to see a veterans home at Camp Bonneville. Medvigy raised the idea during the council’s May 18 meeting.

“We had so much extensive work done because of neighborhood questions about Camp Bonneville and their allowed uses. I had asked the question, ‘What about a veterans home?’ because (Community Military Appreciation Committee), other veteran groups, our own veterans board was proposing that we have a veterans home there. And the state is very interested to provide a home there,” Medvigy said during the council meeting.

The council’s recent focus on creating and encouraging development of more affordable housing aligns with the need to provide housing to disabled veterans, Medvigy said.

Whether such a facility would be allowed under the terms and conditions outlined in the agreement that transferred the property from the U.S. Army to the county will need to be reviewed by the county’s legal counsel.

Established in 1909 as a drill field and rifle range for troops stationed at Fort Vancouver, Camp Bonneville was used as a training camp for various branches of the military for 85 years.

The property remains largely undeveloped. More than half of its 4,000 acres remains forested and includes 800 acres of state-owned lands. The Department of Defense owned and operated the camp until it was officially closed in 1995. Since then, a major effort was undertaken to clear the area of unexploded ordnance, explosive compounds, munitions fragments and lead along with the cleanup of soil and groundwater contaminants.

Much of the cleanup effort was completed in 2021, although nearly 500 acres of the site remains permanently fenced off due to the danger from unexploded munitions.

“Southwest Washington, northern Oregon, does not have a veterans home. We do have one, pretty remotely, in Washington state. There’s nothing here for this region,” Medvigy said in an interview Wednesday. “Some of the neighbors don’t like the idea of anything happening at Camp Bonneville. They just want it to be a nature preserve and leave it alone.”

Medvigy said whenever an idea for a use at Camp Bonneville is raised, the county must go back to the Army and the county’s attorneys to see if it would be allowed under the covenant agreement. Medvigy suggested the council ask the Army if the agreement could be amended to allow a veterans home at the site.

“As I read the information, it certainly did not list a veterans home, but if our question is how can we approach the Army for a question on ‘Would you find this acceptable?’ I would certainly support that,” Chair Karen Bowerman said during the meeting.

Bill Richardson from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said the county has approached the Army previously about allowed uses at the site, such as the Department of Natural Resources wildfire crews and equipment stationed at Camp Bonneville.

“I don’t think that they would ever grant an exemption to the covenant. I think they would consider that to be a little bit dirty. … I think if they did anything, they would want to rewrite that covenant to allow a use like this versus granting an exception to it,” Richardson told the council.

While it’s very early in the process, Medvigy said there is definitely interest in the idea.

“I talked to the Washington state director of Veterans Affairs about their interest, and I can tell you they were pretty excited because they were looking to build one somewhere in this vicinity, as long as it is within reasonable commute to Portland and reasonable commute to the Vancouver campus,” Medvigy added.

Should the Army agree to either amend the county’s agreement or draft a new agreement, Medvigy said, there would be a lot of details to work out to make a veterans home a reality.

“There’s a lot that would have to happen. Potable water, the whole infrastructure would need to be upgraded, there’s a lot of work still going on in the greater area for ordnance cleanup, there is a toxic dump that was cleaned up, and we’re still monitoring that. The roads in and out are a challenge. There’s a lot of infrastructure that would have to be added in,” Medvigy said.

One piece of good news for Clark County residents is that the home would be paid for by federal dollars.

“I think it is a good location, it is a good compatible use. Whether or not it gets any traction, we’ll see,” Medvigy said.

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