A CONEX storage unit full of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), like masks and gloves, is in the works to be installed in both Clatskanie and Vernonia.
The request comes from Columbia County Emergency Management Director Steve Pegram, who stated in a report to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners that the storage unit will be needed in anticipation of additional PPE coming from the state and federal partners over the next one to two-year period.
Should the request be approved, it will be funded with $20,000 from CARES Act Funding. Each unit costs $10,000, with one to be established in Vernonia, and one in Clatskanie.
“We recently added a second CONEX storage container at the EOC in addition to the unit already in place,” Pegram stated in the report. “Both will be full with the next push from FEMA.”
The purpose of the storage containers and influx of PPE is not just for the current pandemic, but is also in preparation for any potential catastrophic event that would require PPE, Pegram said.
“We don’t envision it being temporary. We want to establish a cache of Public Health supplies that’s permanent,” Pegram said.
In outlining his report to commissioners on Wednesday, Aug. 5, Pegram noted that when catastrophic events occur, such as floods, storms or wildfires, Columbia County is often isolated into three different islands, with Scappoose, St. Helens, Columbia City and Rainier located in one island, Clatskanie in another, and Vernonia and Mist-Birkenfeld in another.
“We already have this capability in place for the Scappoose-Rainier corridor,” Pegram states in the report. “We have no capacity for storage in Clatskanie or Vernonia.”
The desire for a more permanent stock of PPE supplies is in response to the current situation, when it was discovered that the Strategic National Stockpile had an inadequate cache of Public Health Commodities, according to Pegram.
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the Strategic National Stockpile is stocked to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies. Pegram told commissioners that public health workers were not able to pull supplies from the stockpile due to failure from the federal government to replenish supplies over the last three presidential administrations.
“It’s imperative we not put Columbia County in that position again,” Pegram said.
However, the board of commissioners said they wanted to see more detailed plans for the storage units before OK’ing the units.
“Virtually, the only things you have nailed down is where you would put it,” Commissioner Margaret Magruder said.
Pegram said he wanted to wait for approval before nailing down the specifics of the plans – such as a site plan, delivery and setup, HVAC, wiring and insulation.
Commissioner Alex Tardif said the commissioners would grant Pegram “tentative approval,” provided that Pegram would come back the following week with a site plan. Pegram promised to do so.
The units are expected to be completed within 60 days of approval.
Other efforts to supply the county with PPE have been ongoing through the Columbia County Economic Team (CCET). CCET set up a PPE pop-up store on Fridays at the Columbia County Fairgrounds. CCET purchased PPE in bulk to make it affordable and available for small businesses to use.
That program is a collaborative effort between the Columbia County Board of Commissioners and CCET.
The Chief will monitor progress of placing the PPE storage at Clatskanie and Vernonia with updated reports here online and in the Friday print editions of The Chief.