Smith touts new, $3 million infusion of cash from Legislature for rail center, but it’s not there

An extra $3 million was said to be awarded to the Nyssa rail shipping center project by state lawmakers last month. It wasn’t. (The Enterprise file)

NYSSA – The announcement seemed like more good news for the Treasure Valley Reload Center.

Legislators had approved another $3 million for the rail shipping center, now under construction north of Nyssa.

Greg Smith, Malheur County Economic Development Department director, announced the extra money at the March 8 meeting of the board of the Malheur County Development Corp.

But there apparently is no $3 million.

At the meeting, Smith referred reporters to state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, and state Sen. Lynn Findley for details about the allocation.

Later last week Owens told the Enterprise he had no such information.

“I do not know of a direct $3 million allocation going to the reload facility,” said Owens.

And Findley said that while the $3 million was on a legislative “wish list,” it wasn’t approved.

The proposal, said Findley, “never made the cut.”

Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge, said he “could not recall” any discussions about a $3 million request for the rail center.

Smith resisted addressing questions from reporters about the money during last week’s development board meeting.

Smith did say, however, that the development corporation had requested the money.

Late Monday, Smith said via email that the Malheur County Development Corp. and the county’s economic development department had no record of the $3 million request.

Smith didn’t say anything about seeking the extra money in other recent meetings of the development company board. Findley sits on the board.

Grant Kitamura, an onion shipper and president of the development board, said he wasn’t involved in a request for more money.

Kitamura has been away from board business for several weeks because of medical reasons.

“I wasn’t aware of the request,” he said.

The money may have been intended to get the Nyssa project finished.

The public development corporation is overseeing the project, funded with $30 million in state money. The reload center was designed to serve area onion shippers by providing more reliable rail service and diverting onion shipments from more costly trucking.

Smith did succeed in getting another $3 million for the project, a sum included in the $30 million. But that additional money was approved last year and is going to the city of Nyssa to put in water service to the rail center. The water line had been cut from reload center plans to save money. Such service is needed to provide fire protection to the industrial development.

Last week, Smith indicated the second $3 million allocation he said legislators had approved could be used for a variety of projects.

“We are trying to figure out the highest and best use of the dollars. Is it to add the third rail spur? Is it to install sewer? Or, based on conversations we are having with other clients, do we want to use it for additional rail?” said Smith.

Project officials have said installing the third rail at the reload center – always part of the plans – is critical for operations.

But project costs have come in higher than expected, and Smith and his team put Track C on hold.

Sewer service to the site was another element stripped from original plans because of cost.

News tip? Contact Pat Caldwell [email protected].

Previous coverage:

Economic development: Malheur County officials struggle to tell what $900,000 bought

Malheur County’s industrial park on hold as federal grant skipped, costs continue

PUBLIC MONEY, PRIVATE EMPIRE: Greg Smith serves many public masters – for a price

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