Local government

Smith agrees to stay on as project manager of rail reload project for $9,000 a month

NYSSA – Greg Smith, who quit recently as Malheur County’s economic development director, on Tuesday agreed to work on the Treasure Valley Reload Center for another year – at a 50% increase in compensation.

He announced his decision during a public meeting of the Malheur County Development Corp., the public company in charge of the Nyssa rail shipping project.

Smith, whose economic development contract was extended by the county for the month of July after he resigned from the position in June, agreed to remain the point man on the beleaguered project.

“The $9,000 is a reasonable amount,” said Smith.

Smith is also a member of the development corporation board. Smith, who attended the meeting in person, abstained from voting on motions that concerned his tenure as project manager. The Malheur County Court still has to ratify the agreement and consideration of the pact was not on the agenda for the county court’s session set Wednesday, July 27.

The development company initially asked the county court in June to retain Smith at $15,000 a month for Smith to remain as project manager.

The court, though, balked at the price tag and offered to provide $6,000 to $9,000 a month for a project manager. The county offer emerged after weeks of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by officials after Smith resigned.

The money for Smith will come from the county’s share of lottery profits devoted to economic development and not its general fund.

The county used its slice of lottery profits since 2017 to pay Smith’s firm $6,000 a month to manage the reload center. Under the new deal, that would increase by $3,000 a month.

Board members didn’t explain why Smith warranted such a significant increase.

The consensus of several board members at the Tuesday meeting was Smith was essential for the project to move ahead to completion.

“When you do something pretty darn complicated you need to finish how you started,” said board member Lynn Findley. Findley is also a state senator from Vale.

To bring a new person in as project manager now, said Findley, would “not be appropriate.”

Board member Jason Pearson, an executive with Eagle Eye Produce in Nyssa, said the board needed Smith.

“We are rounding third and headed to home, no need to go back to second,” said Pearson.

Nyssa City Manager Jim Maret agreed with Pearson and Findley.

“Without Greg, I don’t see this project moving forward,” said Maret.

In his update to the board Tuesday, Smith the rail reload project should be finished by the middle of January or “the first of February.”

“I think I have an obligation to see the project complete,” said Smith.

Smith also asked for and received a vote of confidence from the board.

The new deal was unanimously approved by Findley, Pearson, and fellow board members Corey Maag and Grant Kitamura.

As project manager, Smith supervised a project that is behind schedule and over budget.

The rail project was supposed to be open in 2020 but a series of cost overruns pushed deadlines back. Construction began last December but rapidly ran into trouble, faced with a wetland that proved far larger than expected which required tons of additional rock that cost millions not budgeted.

Smith and his team then projected the reload center would be open this fall, in time to ship onions from the 2022 harvest. That isn’t going to happen.

Part of the project still hinges on action by the legislative Emergency Board, set to meet in September. The board is expected to consider adding another $3 million in state funding to the $29 million already poured into the venture.

Yet even that sum will only allow a slimmed-down version of the reload center, including major cuts to the size of the main terminal building. Smith’s team has already jettisoned a key rail spur, a truck scale and paved roads from the original plan.

Project officials and elected leaders portrayed the reload center as benefiting the county economy, but the onion industry has said it wouldn’t ship any more onions than it does now. Onion producers who will use the Nyssa center have also not indicated whether they would add employees as a result of the public investment in the Nyssa project.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

Malheur County won’t double Smith’s pay, leaving unsettled who will manage rail project

Governor pushes extra $3 million for Nyssa rail center to cover costs overruns

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

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