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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Environmental group seeks closure of Camp Bonneville shooting range used by FBI

FBI uses Clark County property for training, negotiates new contract for usage

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 14, 2024, 6:31pm

An environmental group is trying to persuade Clark County to permanently close the shooting range at Camp Bonneville, the former military training grounds north of Camas.

In a May 9 letter to the Clark County Council, Friends of Clark County argued, “The ongoing use of the Camp Bonneville shooting range conflicts with the federal restrictions of the conservation conveyance and deed restrictions that govern the Camp Bonneville transfer. … These actions have jeopardized the proper cleanup of Camp Bonneville.”

The county council is negotiating a new contract with the FBI to allow the federal agency to continue using the range. The previous contract expired in December 2022.

According to the Friends group, communications between county staff, the FBI and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office have revealed an ongoing pattern of violations at the range.

“Staff has been alerted that the Oregon FBI and (sheriff’s office) activities continue to contaminate this property. These actions contradict the county’s efforts to simultaneously review the cleanup of Camp Bonneville to determine further needed restoration of the property from its history of use as a military training facility,” the letter said.

Council Chairman Gary Medvigy said the range has been in use for nearly a century and shouldn’t be closed now. He said the group is misinterpreting what’s allowed at the property.

“It’s classic ‘not in my backyard.’ They’re confusing the land conveyance to become some kind of natural preserve. It is not,” Medvigy said Tuesday.

Medvigy has advocated for other uses of Camp Bonneville in the past, including creating a home for veterans. The county will eventually create a master plan for the property.

Local resident and retired Washington Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Jim Byrne said he and others don’t think a shooting range belongs in what will someday be a public park. He said the FBI has continued to use the range without an agreement in place.

“The county refers to the FBI as a good tenant, but they’re not paying any rent,” he said, adding the FBI frequently brings in other law enforcement agencies to use the range and property as a rifle range, despite not being approved for that use.

“They’ve been training their dog teams, and they’ve been doing … tear gas out near one of the landfills. None of that is permitted,” Byrne said.

Ownership of the 3,400-acre former military base was transferred from the Army to Clark County in 2011. The county, state Department of Ecology and Army began working that same year to remove lead and unexploded munitions left over from nine decades of military training, with the goal of eventually reopening the property to public use.

The cleanup work is finished, although Ecology is reviewing the work to determine if more is needed and what ongoing maintenance is required. Once Ecology completes this process, the site can be considered for public use.

Medvigy said the council has to look at all compatible uses and what will benefit the most people. He said he wants to see as much of the property opened to the public as possible and that Camp Bonneville could be an ideal location for hiking trails and an equestrian center.

The county council will continue discussion regarding the FBI contract May 22. Medvigy said he’s optimistic the council will approve the contract.

“I’m absolutely in favor of getting the contract done. I support law enforcement, and they need a place to practice and you want them to (practice),” Medvigy said. “We need to modernize the facility. The upgrades they’ve been doing are fine, but we need to upgrade the sound barriers.”

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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.