HERMISTON, Ore. (AP) — The end of chemical weapons incineration in Eastern Oregon this winter will mean layoffs early next year and the loss of an estimated 650 jobs, with many of the positions well-paid, an expert said.
"This is going to be a really big hit to the community," Bruce Sorte, an Oregon State University community economist, said at a forum in Hermiston.
He said the annual loss will be as much as $50 million, including ripple effects, the East Oregonian reported.
The move will hurt business and mean the population of the area will remain flat for half a decade, Sorte said.
Community members can soften the blow, he said, by taking steps such as helping people who lose jobs start businesses. Churches, service organizations and local businesses should reach out to the unemployed and make them feel welcome and valuable, he said.
"I know this sounds sort of goofy and touchy-feely, but that's what holds people," Sorte said.
The Umatilla Chemical Depot south of the Columbia River is destroying chemical weapons — mustard gas, most recently — as part of a national effort to fulfill treaty obligations.
The work is expected to end in November. The first round of layoffs will be in January, according to depot commander, Lt. Col. Kris Perkins.
"Let's not lose sight of the fact that this is good news," said Umatilla County Emergency Manager Jim Stearns. "The agent is almost gone out there. That hazard is one less hazard for our communities to be concerned with."
The area is resilient and growing, said Kim Puzey, manager of the Port of Umatilla and a member of the local alliance of county, port and tribal representatives that has been planning the depot's future.
Puzey said the port has been busier the past few years than ever before, thanks to tax incentives. He cited a new $1.8 million contract with a company called Rotschy Inc., to build a new road to the port's river shipping terminal.
"I certainly think communities like this can absorb the loss and do it very well," he said.
Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.info
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press