By Pat Caldwell
VALE – The first meeting of the board that will oversee a new agriculture rail shipping center will most likely convene within the next week or so.
That was the message county economic director Greg Smith delivered Monday during an interview with the Malheur Enterprise. Formal letters of congratulations were mailed Monday to seven local residents named to the board.
They will lead the effort to use $26 million in state funding to develop and manage the center.
Smith said the first board meeting would be by phone.
“About a week after that we will convene in person and elect a chairman, a vice chairman,” said Smith.
The next step after that, Smith said, will be for the board to create and then file the articles of organization and bylaws for the new company.
Smith also is scheduled to appear before the Oregon Transportation Commission to report on the county’s actions to get the project moving. The Transportation Department will decide when and how to release state funds set aside for the project.
The rail center, often referred to as a trans load facility, would gather produce and other commodities from around the region. The goods would be transported to the shipping center by truck and then loaded on special trains that can make a cross-country run in days.
The shipping center, which would employ up to 125 people, is expected to be a big boost for Malheur County’s onion industry, cutting shipping costs and speeding deliveries to East Coast customers. But the facility is also expected to serve a wide part of eastern Oregon.
Last week the Malheur County Court appointed the board for the new Malheur County Development Corp.
The seven board members are: Smith, who will be chief executive officer; Lynn Findley, Vale city manager; John Qualls, Bank of Eastern Oregon senior loan manager; Toni Parish of Northwest Farm Credit Services; Grant Kitamura, Murakami/Baker Produce general manager;
Jim Farmer, president of Fort Boise Produce; and Kay Riley, manager of Snake River Produce. Vale farmer Cory Maag was named alternate.
The process started with each court member submitting a list of potential board members to Malheur County Counsel Stephanie Williams. Williams then compiled a master roster. County Commissioner Don Hodge said he received a lot of suggestions for the board, as did Commissioner Larry Wilson and Judge Dan Joyce.
“We’ve had all kinds of names handed to us. Everywhere we went someone was handing us names,” said Hodge.
Hodge said the court tried to follow Smith’s guidance.
Smith urged the court to include individuals connected to agriculture – specifically onions – and finance along with a person from the public sector.
Hodge said there was no disagreement among the commissioners regarding the final seven.
“We were all pretty adamant who we wanted and who we didn’t,” said Hodge.
Smith said he is pleased with the court’s choices.
“We have a strong representation in agriculture. Lynn Findley will come on to represent the public sector. We have a strong banker on board and that was one of my requests,” said Smith. “We will be handling a lot of money and I have a fiduciary obligation to the public and the county to make sure we use those dollars accordingly so you want someone with a financial background.”
A strong financial background on the board is important for another reason said Smith.
“We are going to have companies that will come and locate and we have to make sure they are a good fit, not only socially but financially. By having a second set of eyes that will help the board look at the financial part so it gives us oversight,” said Smith.