Rail board draws big interest

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

VALE — Malheur County’s economic development director is recommending the county create a new public corporation to manage the proposed $26 million rail shipping center.

That would be a key step to launching a project expected to boost the local agriculture economy and create new jobs.

Greg Smith, the economic development director, said he would recommend the stand-alone company in a presentation to the Malheur County Court this Wednesday, too late for press time.

County commissioners are leaning towards the idea and already are gathering names for those who would serve on the new company’s board.

“In reality it is time for Malheur County to have one. They are great tools for economic development,” Smith said.

The shipping center would form special trains loaded with area produce that has been trucked in. The trains would then head east, cutting time and costs for the local agriculture industry.

Smith said he is recommending a seven-person board manage the corporation that will oversee the rail center and industrial park.

“We will be looking for board members with strong financial backgrounds. We will be dealing with real money and we need to make sure we have folks with the knowledge and experience who can guide the process,” said Smith.

Commissioner Don Hodge said the county has already received contacts from local residents who want to be part of the corporation.

“People are handing us lists or calling us and leaving emails. I have had 100 names,” Hodge said.

Hodge agreed with Smith that the board would need to be filled by individuals with a strong financial background.

Smith is recommending a non-profit corporation known by its federal tax code status – 501c4.

“Primarily it takes the liability off of the county,” he said.

“The time will come where we will have a company that will want to locate into the industrial park and they will want to borrow money,” Smith said. “Rather than have that on the county, it will be on the development corporation so if it doesn’t work out, the county isn’t on the line.”

The non-profit corporation would also be in a better position for federal and state help, Smith said.

“It almost makes it easier for them to apply for money than a government entity,” said Smith.

Smith also said Union Pacific will send a real estate and economic development team to Malheur County later this month to review possible sites.

“We are looking at any and all possible locations. We are trying to identify the very best location,” said Smith.

Hodge and Smith said the process to create a rail shipping depot and adjacent industrial park will not be fast.

“We have got to do this right. We sure can’t mess up and if it takes getting everything in place and two years before they break ground, than that is what it takes,” said Hodge.

Smith said a preliminary engineering and business plan for the facility could be done by the first of the year.

Hodge said too much in on the line for the county for elected leaders to rush into a specific plan. One important factor, he said, will be cooperation between elected and appointed leaders throughout the county.

“I want to see slow and steady progress,” said Hodge.