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News / Clark County News

Camp Bonneville concerns may delay contract between Clark County, FBI

Council told some information it was given wasn’t correct

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 4, 2024, 6:08am

New and old concerns about the FBI’s continued use of a shooting range at Camp Bonneville could delay contract negotiations between the federal agency and Clark County Council.

Since the county council first discussed the new contract at its March 6 meeting, county staff have revealed that some of the information given to the council was incorrect.

During a staff presentation, Parks and Lands Manager Rocky Houston told the council the FBI had been paying the county $150,000 annually. However, according to a March 15 memo from Houston, the April 2012 contract stated, “the FBI would be responsible for maintenance and improvements at the range during the duration of the agreement,” and that payment was at “the discretion of the FBI and subject to financial resources being available and sets the cap for the FBI’s financial responsibility at $400,000.”

Houston also said a September 2012 amendment specified an amount of $150,000 would be paid by the FBI for range improvements during the period of the agreement in lieu of a daily use fee, and that lease had been extended to 10 years.

In reviewing the county’s files, Houston said staff have been unable to verify or document the expenditure of funds or what improvements have been made to the range.

This has groups such as Friends of Clark County raising the red flag and asking the county to take a step back.

“We urge that the council and staff take the necessary steps to address the lack of transparency and record keeping with county contracts, specifically regarding the Camp Bonneville FBI shooting range, as well as multiple instances in which false information has been presented to council and the public,” Friends of Clark County wrote in a March 27 letter to the county.

The group says that wasn’t the only discrepancy, adding information about how much the FBI has paid, what improvements have been made and how much cleanup work has been done had been inconsistent.

“The central impact target area, which contains 572 acres and is the most dangerous 15 percent of Camp Bonneville, had been presented as having been cleaned, including both surface and subsurface,” the letter said, adding that a final report from January 2021 shows 455 acres were not cleared in any way.

Bad information

The group says the county council is making decisions and recommendations based on bad information.

“If (the county) council made a decision based on false information at a public meeting, then this correction should have been shared publicly and another opportunity should exist for the public to weigh in on this incredibly one-sided contract,” the group said.

Councilor Sue Marshall said she would like an updated briefing before making a decision on the contract.

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“I think it would be good for them to come back and give us another briefing, as they sort through things,” Marshall said Wednesday. “I need to get out there and really scope it out.”

While the county has previously had a longer-contract term with the FBI, Marshall said she’d like to see something different this time.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction to have a shorter contract period of time. Ultimately, if this is going to be a park, a shooting range doesn’t seem to be compatible to me,” she said.

However, she cautioned that decisions about future uses for the former military base haven’t been made yet.

“That’s a whole additional part of the process,” Marshall said. “But I would like to have some more information before we make a final decision.”

Gregory Shaw, who serves on the Camp Bonneville Community Advisory Group, said there have long been worries about using the site for a shooting range. In a March 13 letter to the county council, staff and others, Shaw said the reuse plan committee expressed major concerns about safety and compatibility of the FBI firing range in its 1998 report.

“If you read the reuse plan in its entirety, not just as a pick-and-choose exercise to justify hardened opinions, you may see that planners were deeply concerned that ranges were actually incompatible with public access to Camp Bonneville,” Shaw said in the letter.

He said the reuse plan also called for the current range to be moved and brought up to safety standards, but that has been ignored by the FBI and Clark County.

“The Camp Bonneville range (unless it has been secretly transferred back to the U.S. government) is not an ‘FBI range.’ It was not ‘safe’ in 1997, and it is not safe today.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.