By Les Zaitz
ONTARIO – The seven people who will have a lot to say about Malheur County’s economic future met as a board for the first time Monday, setting in motion steps to erect a new rail shipping center.
In its inaugural session, the new Malheur County Development Corp. convened in the attic meeting room of the Ontario Train Depot, the clanging and banging of freight trains on the other side of the wall providing almost-scripted sound effects.
Grant Kitamura, president of Baker/Murakami Produce, was elected president of the new board. The other six members are Kay Riley, owner and manager of Snake River Produce; Jim Farmer, president of Fort Boise Produce; Toni Parrish, a vice president of Northwest Farm Credit Services; John Qualls, senior vice president of the Bank of Eastern Oregon; Lynn Findley, Vale city manager; and Greg Smith, Malheur County economic development director.
The new board is wasting little time getting to work on its key job – developing a new industrial park and rail shipping. They have access to $26 million in state money, allocated by recent legislation.
The board was scheduled to tour five possible sites Tuesday, accompanied by officials from Union Pacific Railroad. The locations were being kept confidential to avoid setting off a price war that could drive up cost of the land needed for the project.
At the first meeting, the board took up the chores of creating a new business – electing officers, approving incorporation papers, and seeking tax-exempt status.
Smith said he expects the development corporation to submit its plan for the project to the Oregon Transportation Commission in October. He said if the commission approves the plan, the development board could get up to $1.3 million for early project work.
“Then we will really be going full steam,” he said.
He said he expected the board to first identify the best site in the county for a new industrial park, build the park, and then move on to bring in the rail shipping center.
The shipping center would allow area agriculture producers to truck their goods to a central location for loading onto special trains, which would carry the goods to the East Coast. The aim is to cut costs and delivery time, streamlining the process and boosting the local economy.
Smith alerted board members to expect to meet often. The board members seemed ready for that.
“Time is of the essence,” Kitamura said.