Umatilla Chemical Depot was a storage facility responsible for storing military items and chemical weapons in the period spanning 1941-1994. The facility was used to manage equipment during battles, from World War II to the Korean and Vietnam Wars, to the more recent Desert Storm mission. The depot, however, carried dangerous chemicals that often caused explosions and harmed employees. These munitions were safely destroyed by 2011 and the base closed soon after in 2015. The site now participates in environmental efforts to return the land to its original condition.
The depot opened as Umatilla Ordnance Depot in 1941 amidst brewing conflict leading up to World War II. The location in North-Central Oregon was chosen because of its close proximity to railroad lines for shipping materials and the low risk of sea attacks. The 20,000-acre site was also perfect for storage as it had a mild climate with low humidity, preventing rust of metal equipment. On the land soon stood storage bunkers, barracks, headquarters, base housing units, warehouses, workshops, a fire station, and a railroad engine house. It was stocked with various items like munition and blankets to aide soldiers both in battle and at rest.
During World War II, the depot held around 2,000 employees, with an impressive 27% women. There was a pronounced atmosphere of equality among the genders at Umatilla, as it allowed females to perform jobs that were then predominantly male, from driving trucks to building crates and dealing with munitions. At its peak, the site was serviced by an array of different employees who cooperated to handle their numerous responsibilities.
Its storage expanded in 1962 with the addition of chemical weapons to their supply for preventative measure in upcoming wars. It was known to contain the highly toxic GB/VX nerve agents and HD (“mustard”) blister agent, sometimes concealed as liquid in containers and munitions such as rockets, bombs, projectiles, mines, bulk containers, and aerial spray tanks. These explosive materials were eventually rendered too dangerous, and the facility prepared to close their operations in 1990-1994. 1996 marked the beginning of the facility’s new initiative to destroy their noxious chemicals and munitions, with the redesignation as Umatilla Chemical Disposal Facility.
The land that once housed Umatilla Ordnance and Chemical Depot is now mostly empty. Though the site seems to have lost everything, it gained a new purpose. Since the redesignation as a chemical weapons disposal facility, there have been several cleanup actions. A recent project at the depot aimed to purify contaminated soils and water using microbes. The U.S. Army has prepared to hand the facility over to a local organization known as the Columbia Development Authority as means of protection. In addition, environmental steps have been taken by Oregon National Guard to preserve wildlife at the site. Most intact remnants from the site can be found at the Umatilla County Historical Society’s Heritage Station Museum in Pendleton.
Active Units & Employment
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is the only department that remains working at the facility. There are no military employment or career opportunities at or near Umatilla currently. However, civilians can be employed there through the Umatilla Human Resources Department (541-278-2282).
Hotels & Lodging
While Umatilla is not an active base anymore, it is still a great place to visit to view historical remains. If you decide to pay a visit, there are a few hotels in Umatilla and nearby Hermiston that can surely accommodate your needs:
- Quality Inn (541-922-1101)
- Best Western Hermiston Inn (541-564-0202)
- Tillicum Inn (541-922-3236)
There is no housing available on base because of safety concerns, but there are plenty of options around the area. Call Umatilla County Housing Authority at (541) 562-3241.