Umatilla Chemical Depot to lay off 200 this week

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJune 18, 2013 

Incinerator Chemical Depot 05

An aerial view of the Umatilla Chemical Depot near Hermiston taken in 2005.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

HERMISTON -- The Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility will have its largest round of layoffs since destroying the last chemical weapons.

The incineration plant at the Umatilla Chemical Depot will reduce its work force by 200 people Thursday. Spokesman Hal McCune said the latest layoffs are part of the shutdown of the facility's control room.

The move will reduce the number of people working at the facility to 270. That's down from 830 employees when it completed the destruction of Oregon's chemical weapons stockpile in October 2011.

The plant was built and operated by URS Corp.

More than 160 of the jobs will be eliminated in the plant organization, including 60 lab workers with Southwest Research Institute, a URS subcontractor, McCune said. The other jobs being cut are in support departments.

About a third of the departing employees will be transferred to other jobs with URS at similar plants in Colorado and Kentucky, McCune said.

"They use a little different technology from our plant, but they're still destroying chemical weapons," he said.

The Tri-City area is home to about half the disposal facility's employees, with the remainder living around Hermiston, McCune said.

Another 90 layoffs are expected in late summer or early fall, when the site will be ready for demolition. The plant is expected to be torn down between August and March. Workers will continue to work on an environmental review and maintenance.

"There's still a lot of paperwork to be done," McCune said.

Between 2004 and 2011, the furnace at the plant destroyed more than 1 million pounds of chemical agent and incinerated more than 100,000 munitions.

Employees at the plant knew their jobs would not be permanent when they took them, McCune said. Each worker has been given a "milestone date" for the end of their position, allowing time to find another job.

The depot site, where much of the nation's chemical weapons stockpile was stored during the Cold War, will still include a maintenance building and office and storage space after demolition, McCune said. They could be made available to Umatilla County government, port districts and private businesses.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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