By Pat Caldwell
ONTARIO – The new county development board is scoring five sites to pick the best location for a new rail shipping center after railroad officials said that all sites could work.
Members of the board of the Malheur Economic Development Corp. recently toured two sites near Ontario and three near Nyssa with representatives of Union Pacific Railroad.
“All five of them are acceptable to UP,” said Greg Smith, county economic development director.
Malheur County is in line to get up to $26 million from the state to build the rail center.
At such a facility, farm products are trucked in and then loaded onto special trains that can make a run to the east coast in a matter of days.
Each train holds several hundred truckloads of goods, lowering freight costs and allowing faster delivery.
The center, which could employ up to 125 people, is expected to be a big boost for Malheur County’s onion industry.
The challenge now, Smith said, isn’t necessarily where to build the facility but what type of rail service to use.
He said Union Pacific provides standard and premium service.
Smith said premium service is much more expensive than the standard option. Smith said there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of service.
One difference between premium and standard is the number of stops the railroad makes at a specific location.
Another is the type of rail switch needed, said Smith.
Smith said Union Pacific can use bigger rail cars for premium service, but that requires a heavier gauge rail switch. Smith said the Malheur County Development Corp. board last week discussed the next steps on the project.
“We are putting a scoring grid together. We will go through each location and score them,” said Smith.
The next big move, Smith said, will occur in October when the Oregon Transportation Commission meets to finalize the rules for the statewide transportation package. At that time, Smith said, the development corporation will seek the first state money for the project, identifying two potential sites for the rail center.
“We will be ready to make our presentation asking them to accept our project and asking them to release five percent of the $26 million,” said Smith.
The money would be used to hire a surveyor and engineer for the project.
“Once we get their (the surveyor’s and engineer’s) final assessment and UP gives us their final assessment, we will move forward with the scoring matrix and work to negotiate a deal on the property,” said Smith.
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