In the community

Rail planners juggle ideas, expectations

Officials and residents offer suggestions for the the rail reload facility project at the Nyssa City Council chambers. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

NYSSA – For the past nine months, Greg Smith has not wavered from the mantra that one of the biggest challenges for a new multimillion-dollar rail reload facility is managing expectations.

Recently in the Nyssa City Council chambers Smith, the county’s economic development director, returned to that theme as officials and residents offered suggestions that often outpaced the budget for the project.

 “I have $26 million,” Smith said. “We must still acquire the land. We must go through a planning process. I must get water and sewer, and I may have to build a road. I need to build a building. Buy equipment. And spend $6 million on rail,” he said.

Smith said $26 million is a lot of money but “in this type of project it goes fast.”

A good example, he said, is pushing water lines from Nyssa to the rail facility. 

“I could save money if I went with a smaller waterline but what do I do when we start to grow? Part of the infrastructure we pay for today isn’t going to be used until the future,” said Smith.

The session was open to the public but was not an official meeting of the Malheur County Development Corp., the company created by the Malheur County Court to oversee the project.

Smith touted such meetings as a way to foster transparency and collect ideas.

“I wanted to make sure the public was invited because they obviously have thoughts and ideas,” said Smith. 

The rail shipping center is seen by county and city officials as an economic game-changer. At the rail shipping center farm products are trucked in and loaded onto trains that can reach major agriculture distribution centers across the U.S. in days. Each train holds several hundred truckloads of goods, lowering freight costs and speeding delivery. 

Nyssa officials also expect the center to help boost the city’s economy.

Project engineer Brad Baird of Anderson Perry and Associates briefed the crowd of about 20 residents and officials. 

Baird said the site survey is nearly complete. The site survey includes a review of the terrain, and environmental, archeological and cultural appraisals of the proposed site north of Nyssa along Arcadia Avenue. 

A wetland survey is also nearly complete, he said, and mitigation would be necessary.

Smith said that means some of the wetland would be removed.

“The state requires that for every one acre you remove out of wetland you have to replace it with 1.5 new acres. So effectively what we will do is remove about four acres of wetland and replace it with six new acres that will be out of the way and we can get our rail lines through,” said Smith.

The rail system would consist of three storage lines and three rail spurs, he said. 

“We cannot have our cars sitting on the main line,” said Smith. 

“You take a train and put it on the spur, fill it up, back that car off and put it on the storage line as we are putting the train together,” Smith said.

Smith emphasized, though, that the rail plan could change.

Traffic was another issue the group tackled, and Smith said the priority will be to keep trucks out of Nyssa.

“We are trying to figure out what the best pattern is for truck traffic movement. We want to accommodate the trucks so there is a pattern where they can come in and out efficiently,” said Smith.

Smith said the traffic challenge is a major one.

“Right now, we don’t have a defined pathway,” he said.

Several suggestions were offered for a truck route, including one via Gamble Road and out on Gem Avenue. That would mean building a secondary road from Oregon Highway 201 east to link with Gamble Road.

Smith directed Baird to propose several routes.

“We want to do everything we can to keep trucks away from residential areas and we want the city comfortable with this,” said Smith.

Smith said preliminary work is about 60 percent finished. That includes the engineering reviews, appraisals from RailPro, and an economic analysis by EcoNorthwest, a regional economic consulting firm. 

Smith must submit a detailed plan to the Oregon Department of Transportation by Sept. 27. The state would then release the remaining state funds designated for the project.

Smith said construction would then start next spring.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.