PENDLETON -- About 1,000 people will lose their jobs when the Army finishes work at the Umatilla Chemical Depot, and Eastern Oregon is poised to feel the economic fallout.
The East Oregonian reported that an Army demilitarization contractor is expected to finish destroying chemical munitions at the depot in November.
After that, security guards, military leaders, clerks and contractors likely will be looking for work.
Oregon State economist Bruce Sorte estimated the total economic loss will be about $17 million. Sorte said about 685 jobs will be lost in Umatilla and Morrow counties.
"It's pretty phenomenal," he said. "It feels funny to me to come up with numbers that large and not have everyone just going crazy."
The depot was created to store World War II munitions.
It's been incinerating chemical weapons such as VX, sarin and mustard agents since 2004.
About 450 locals will lose jobs, and Sorte estimates that about 70 related jobs will be lost, along with another 160 among the businesses such as food services, nursing and retail stores.
The Army is helping many of the depot's employees find jobs or helping to retrain them for civilian employment.
But though many of the federal employees with specialized job training will find work in other parts of the country, those who stay will find smaller schools, a shrinking clientele for local businesses and homes for sale without a ready buyer.
"It's tough out there, especially for those who want to stay local," depot commander Lt. Col. Kris Perkins told the Hermiston School District board last week.
The military is expected in the fall to decide whether the depot will be governed by its own base-closing process or will be turned over to the General Services Administration, the property management agency known as the government's landlord.
Sorte said the economic loss of the depot will take about three years to play out.
A previous closure of a potato processing plant in the area happened more suddenly, but most of the workers stayed in the area.
Concern now centers on the potential for many skilled workers taking their jobs with them, leaving Eastern Oregon a smaller -- and poorer -- place.
Business and government groups are seeking solutions.
The Hermiston Chamber of Commerce formed the Eastern Oregon Economic Alliance, a group of government leaders and business owners, to find ways to keep depot workers in our region.
"We all need to work together," said chamber Director Debbie Pedro, "to come up with good solutions."