Nyssa project may not ship onions for three years

Greg Smith, Malheur County Economic Development Director, speaks to the Oregon Transportation Commission in the spring. Smith and members of the Malheur County Development Corp. set tentative milestones for a $26 million rail reload center Tuesday. (The Enterprise/File).

ONTARIO – Supporters of a $26 million rail reload center north of Nyssa will not be shipping onions for three years, according to a draft timeline document from the Malheur County Development Corp.

The corporation – a seven-member board created by the county to oversee the project – intends to notify state officials Friday it plans to wrap up the venture by June 30, 2022.

However, that deadline is not set in stone, said John Braese of the Malheur County Economic Development Department.

“They are so ODOT (the state Transportation Department) sees where we are kind of at,” said Braese.

In December, Greg Smith, Malheur County Economic Development director, pledged construction could begin as early as spring.

The corporation board Tuesday considered 14 separate timelines that run a gamut from the completing preliminary plans to the start of construction.

Braese emphasized the project goals discussed at the meeting were tentative.

According to a draft milestone document, construction is estimated to begin Jan. 1, 2021 with an agreement inked between the facility operator and Union Pacific by Oct. 31, 2020. The development corporation also set a rough deadline of next Jan. 31 to acquire the land for the project. The county already has executed two sales agreements and considered a third for property in Nyssa, setting total land prices at more than $3 million.

The corporation also plans to sign an agreement with an operator for the facility by next January.

Other deadlines – final plans, engineering bids and permit approvals – run through most of 2020.

The board also reviewed ongoing discussions between it and AmeriCold Logistics LLC to operate the facility.

In May, documents delivered to state transportation officials showed local leaders were in tentative discussion with AmeriCold to operate the facility.

The Oregon Transportation Commission approved the taxpayer-funded project last month, nearly two years after local elected leaders began to plan for the venture.

At the rail reload center, onion producers will truck onions to Nyssa where they will be loaded onto cars for shipment back east. Under the plan approved by the transportation commission – which was significantly modified from its original concept – the county will also go into the rail car business, leasing up to 200 rails cars.

While the commission approved the facility, the county won’t see a state check right away. The next step for the development corporation will be to sign an agreement with the state Transportation Department on the fine details of the project.

The development corporation board is scheduled to meet again Tuesday, Aug. 13, at 9 a.m. at Baker & Murakami Produce, 1431 S.E. 1st St. in Ontario. The meeting is open to the public.

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