Malheur County faces Friday deadline to make case for rail project

Greg Smith (left) Malheur County Economic Development Director along with Larry Wilson, Malheur County commissioner, testify before the Oregon Transportation Commission in June. (The Enterprise/File).

NYSSA – State transportation officials want Malheur County to provide a more precise financial plan on a proposed rail reload center by Friday.

In a June 21 letter, Tammy Baney, chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission, directed the county to furnish details and supporting documentation on specific elements of the reload center proposal.

Baney set a July 12 deadline for answers from local rail reload facility supporters.

The commission is scheduled to decide at its Thursday, July 18, meeting on awarding $26 million to the local rail facility.

In her three-page letter, Baney asked for details on rail shipping costs, expenses, transit times and a guarantee from shippers they will use the facility.

“Rather than a letter of support, the letter from shippers must demonstrate that the service provided by UP (Union Pacific) for the estimated costs is financially viable to them,” the letter said.

Baney asked the county to “provide hypothetical shipper costs to transport onions through this facility to Chicago, Il, and to Hunts Point, N.Y.”

The state also wants the rail facility supporters to break down costs on a “per rail car basis, and assume median volume levels.”

The county then must compare the rail center shipping costs with existing truck transportation and Union Pacific’s Cold Connect Express rail service at Wallula, Wash.

The state also wants an estimate on the fee charged by the operator of the facility for rail round trips and an estimate on how much it will cost to bring a rail car back to Nyssa from the east.

Last week the Enterprise reached out to Greg Smith, Malheur County economic development director, and Grant Kitamura, the president of the Malheur County Development Corp., which will oversee the Nyssa center, for comment on the letter from the state. Neither Smith or Kitamura responded.

Malheur County officials have worked to get the rail reload center off the ground for more than two years. The facility is seen by many as an economic game-changer for the county.

In September 2018, Smith delivered a plan to state transportation officials that consisted of an economic feasibility study, cost estimates and a site blueprint. In December, Smith said he anticipated the money for the project would be released and construction could begin in the spring.

Plans for the project stalled in February as increasingly skeptical state officials raised an array of questions about whether the center was economically sustainable.  

The Transportation Commission was to make a final decision on the facility at its June 20 meeting but opted to give the county one more chance to plug gaps in its rail center plan.

At the June 20 meeting, Mike Garrett, director of the state Transportation Department and Baney expressed doubt about the local rail facility.

Baney said if the commission was “pushed to make a decision today it would be no.”

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

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