Key member of Malheur County board overseeing rail reload center resigns

Jim Farmer, as member of the county’s development board charged with overseeing a rail reload facility planned north of Nyssa, resigned Thursday.

NYSSA – Jim Farmer, a Nyssa onion producer, resigned from the board of the county’s development company Thursday.

Farmer was one of the initial directors of the Malheur County Development Corp., formed by the county in 2017 to create the Treasure Valley Reload Center in Nyssa.

The company announced his resignation Wednesday evening following a board meeting but provided no explanation.

“The remaining members of the board reluctantly accepted Farmer’s resignation with praise for the work he has accomplished,” according to a county statement.

Farmer said Thursday morning he had no comment.

He is president and co-founder of Fort Boise Produce, an onion packer and shipper founded in 1982, and has spent most of his life in Nyssa.

Farmer’s role in the company has been spotlighted because the county has agreed to pay his family $3 million for a 285-acre parcel north of Nyssa proposed as the home to the new rail shipping center.

He has recused himself from board action relating to the land but statements by Greg Smith, the county’s economic development director, put Farmer into a controversy about how state money was being used for the Nyssa project. Land costs for the project have grown from $1.6 million to $3.9 million.

A state consultant working for the state Transportation Department in early January first flagged real estate price discrepancies in Malheur County’s proposal to get $26 million to build the rail shipping center. The consultants said the county at one point said land costs for the project would cost $1.6 million but in a chart showed the price for the desired ground was $2.8 million.

An investigation by The Enterprise established that both numbers were incorrect. A sale agreement recorded at the Malheur County clerk’s office showed the county agreed last July to pay Farmer and his family $3 million for the land.

Smith has provided varying explanations. In January, he initially said he would “have to go look” for information to explain the discrepancy, and then later said there was a “very logical reason” the numbers didn’t matchup. Still later, he wrote that “we can explain the discrepancy” when the real estate transactions were complete.

He has yet to do so – and the deal with the Farmer family closed last summer.

Smith also hasn’t responded to questions why the state was told in the county’s submission that only the Farmer property was needed for the rail project.

In its Sept. 27 proposal, the county described the 290-acre Farmer property as the best site for the rail project in part because it abuts the Union Pacific Railroad line needed for service. The report said about 100 acres would be needed for the reload center.

That leaves about190 acres “for future development” including “several possible industrial lots,” the county said in its submission to the state.

The county didn’t tell the state then that it already had executed a purchase agreement last July for a second piece of ground that it expected the state to pay for — property from Nyssa Industries Inc. for $394,000. That land is north of the Farmer property.

Larry Wilson, a county commissioner and real estate agent, owns a small percentage of Nyssa Industries and has recused himself from county decisions regarding that Nyssa lot.

Smith recently said in an email that the county development company was still considering buying a third parcel known as the Bybee property in Nyssa, adding another $500,000 to real estate costs.

In a Feb. 14 letter to the state transportation officials, Smith provided yet another version of the real estate transactions.

“The Malheur County Development Corporation and three land owners have entered into a one-year land acquisition agreement. Final terms of the purchase (i.e. irrigation rights) have not been formally agreed upon pending funding,” he wrote.

County records show that the Malheur County Court has executed and finalized the sales agreement with the Farmers and Nyssa Industries with prices and terms settled.

The Farmer agreement gives the county until August to pay for the land or the agreement and its terms expire.

County officials confirmed this week that there is no agreement in place for the Bybee property.


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