Mission comes to an end at depot

A ceremony Thursday marked the official conclusion of operations at the former chemical weapons stockpile in Umatilla.

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John Nerger, executive deputy to the commanding general of the U.S. Army Material Command, delivers the keynote address Thursday night at the Umatilla Chemical Weapons Stockpile End of Operations Ceremony in Hermiston. (March 15, 2012)

HERMISTON -- "This is the day we always looked forward to, the destruction of this stockpile," said Don Barclay.

Barclay, acting director of the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency, was among hundreds who turned out Thursday to celebrate the elimination of a lethal cache of weapons stored near this city for decades.

The end of operations ceremony at the Hermiston Community Center marked one of the last milestones for the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, which has incinerated millions of pounds of mustard gas and nerve agents in the past eight years.

Barclay was one of a bevy of military and civilian officials who praised the work of "team Umatilla," the hundreds of local residents who labored at the depot during the disposal operation.

The project was not without its challenges, Barclay noted. Obstacles along the way included rocket fires, eight lawsuits and even a tornado that knocked out every power source to the facility. "Your people wouldn't quit," he said.

Lt. Col. Kris Perkins, who introduced himself as "the 39th and final commander" of the depot, recounted how the facility and its people have successfully carried out the mission of safely storing, then destroying, munitions.

"We celebrate a community that no longer lies in the shadow of chemical weapons," he said.

Keynote speaker John Nerger, executive deputy to the commanding general, U.S. Army Material Command, said the people who worked on the project "brought your nation one stop closer" to eliminating its total chemical stockpile.

"You can either read history or make history," Nerger said. "I like to think Umatilla has made history."

Gary Anderson, site project manager, echoed Nerger's comments.

"The completion of operations in October 2011 is really a historic event, not only for the Army and URS (Corporation), but also for the city of Hermiston and the state of Oregon," he said.

According to project officials, the next step will be to dismantle the disposal facility, a task that is expected to take 18-24 months.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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