Rail board calls special Saturday meeting to question engineers over construction matters

Supplies await installation at the Treasure Valley Reload Center north of Nyssa on April 29, 2022. (The Enterprise/LES ZAITZ)

UPDATE: 6:30 p.m. FRIDAY – The rail board will address tough questions to engineers about project costs and supplies, according to the list released.

UPDATE 4:30 P.M. FRIDAY – The company president explains the reason for the meeting and that one of the board members will lead questioning, not face questions.

NYSSA – The board of Malheur County Development Corp., overseeing construction of the Nyssa rail center, has called a special meeting for 2 p.m. Saturday, an unprecedented event announced with little explanation.

Greg Smith, Malheur County economic development director, issued notice of the meeting just 24 hours ahead of time. He didn’t respond to an email seeking an explanation.

The agenda provided by Smith lists a single item: “Questions for Anderson Perry, Corey Maag.”

Anderson Perry & Associates is the La Grande engineering firm under contract to manage construction of the project, which has run into substantial cost overruns.

Maag is a director on the board of the development company, created by Malheur County to manage the construction of the Treasure Valley Reload Center. Maag is a Vale businessman who owns Jamieson Produce, an onion producer.

There was no indication in the agenda material about Maag’s role, and Maag didn’t immediately respond Friday afternoon to an email seeking clarification.

Grant Kitamura, board president and partner in of Baker and Murakami Produce Company, told the Enterprise later Friday that Maag would be leading the questioning of project engineers, not be the subject of questions himself.

Others on the board include Kay Riley of Snake River Produce in Nyssa, Jason Pearson of Eagle Eye Produce in Nyssa and Lynn Findley, state senator from Vale.

The board typically meets on Tuesdays and by its usual schedule, would have convened on Tuesday, May 10. Kitamura said that meeting is likely to be canceled.

The Saturday meeting will be conducted by telephone. The public can dial in to listen by calling 541-896-1824.

Kitamura explained board members want a better understanding of costs and types of material being used in construction. He said additional change orders on the initial construction contract would be coming to the board and directors need better information.

“They don’t understand all the jargon of construction and the change orders. We’re just questioning some of that,” Kitamura said. “We’re trying to do our job.”

The board last month approved one change order for the contract held by Steve Lindley Contracting.

The project is facing key pressures as it falls behind schedule and runs short of money.

To cut a nearly $10 million costs overrun, Smith and his team recently scrapped what had been considered key features of the project, including one of four rail spurs to serve the shipping center. The team also has proposed going with unpaved roads and postponing some entirely.

The reload center was originally budgeted at $26 million, funded by a grant from the state Transportation Department. The Oregon Legislature last year granted another $3 million to ensure water service to the property, north of Nyssa and along the Union Pacific Railroad line.

Even with that cost cutting, project leaders say they are about $5 million short of what is needed to build even a stripped-down reload center. They have approached the Legislature again for money and also are asking Americold, the Georgia-based company that will run the center, to help cover the funding gap.

Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].