Project leaders report to state that Nyssa rail center will be done by August

The team managing the Treasure Valley Reload Center reported to state officials on Wednesday, June 1, that they still expect to finish the rail shipping center by the end of August.

In the required monthly report to the Oregon Department of Transportation, project officials listed the date for “project complete” as Aug. 31. The date was included in a column designated for “anticipated completion date.”

The report said work already was half done on a project funded by $26 million in state funds.

That is the most positive outlook for the project in some time.

In recent weeks, officials at the Malheur County Economic Development Department and the Malheur County Development Corp. have faced one round of bad news after another ­– unexpected costs, construction delays, and a budget shortfall they have been unable to fill.

Onion shippers are eager for the center to open as freight costs to ship their produce to market by truck have soared. The rail center would instead load their 50-pound bags onto train cars for shipment to markets in the East.

Yet the declared completion date conflicts with a companion document submitted to the state by Greg Smith, the county economic development director.

The “current project schedule estimates” showed yet another delay in crucial construction at the property north of Nyssa. Work to install rail spurs to serve the onion shipping facility has been pushed back a month and won’t finish until August, Smith’s document showed.

“The rail contractor is still awaiting the earthwork to reach a point that they can begin their work, which is expected to occur in the middle of June,” the report to the state said.

READ IT: Monthly update report

The document showed that construction of the building – the centerpiece of the project ­– would be done by October, in time for the fall onion harvest.

There was no explanation for why the county was forecasting completion in August when the key building won’t be done until October. Smith has a practice of not responding to interview requests or written questions from the Enterprise, a practice that county officials have been unwilling to alter.

But the report to the state hinted at what has been said in other meetings – that the building might not get built as soon as projected. One company from Idaho bid to put in the building, offering a price that was $2.9 million more than Smith and his team had anticipated.

“The project team will need to decide on whether or not to award the contract” by Monday, June 6.

That’s when the bid on the building either has to be accepted or rejected. The report gave little indication what would happen to the project if the bid is dumped.

“If the building is postponed, the schedule will need to be modified accordingly,” the construction schedule document said without providing any details.

The report didn’t make clear if Smith would be left to make that crucial decision. The development company board has no meeting scheduled before Monday, June 6.

The two reports included no information about the current state of the project budget. The state awarded a $26 million grant to fund the reload center, and costs have come in substantially higher despite four years of planning. Smith is seeking millions in fresh funding but so far has been unsuccessful.

The report also said that plans to seek bids for finishing streets and utilities might be scrubbed. That construction contract was originally supposed to go out for bid in April.

Now, project leaders are considering giving the work to the company already handling earthwork at culverts ­– Steve Lindley Contracting of Union.

The company is no longer bound by the fixed price it bid last fall for preparing the former farmland for rail lines and the building. Instead, Malheur County Development Corp., the public company created by county officials to manage the project, agreed to allow the contractor to charge costs for labor and supplies to account for unexpected work.

Canceling another bid and giving the street and utility work to Steve Lindley Contracting “would save costs” because the company is already on site, the report said.

Brad Baird, president of Anderson Perry & Associates, the company managing construction said in an email on Thursday, June 2, that work originally planned under the final contract “has reduced a fair amount from the initial plan. If it was still the initial size, we would bid it. With the reduced size now (just the essential access from Gem), it would be a cost savings to just add it” to the Steve Lindley contract.

Some insight into project costs would be contained in contract amendments approved by the development company board on Tuesday, May 24. Smith and his team so far have refused to release the documents to the Enterprise despite being directed to do so by Grant Kitamura, the development company president. Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce said Wednesday that the documents should be released but he wasn’t going to take action.

The Enterprise has petitioned Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe for an order requiring disclosure. Goldthorpe gave county officials a week to respond or deliver the records.

Contact Editor Les Zaitz by email: [email protected].