Construction of the Treasure Valley Reload Center can keep going after legislators last week provided an emergency infusion of $3 million.
They did so after state Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, assured them that the money would be enough to finish the work and get the depot running.
Project records contradict that.
Millions more still are needed before onions can ship from the reload center, project estimates show.
Findley declined Saturday to address the conflict in that and other statements, saying by email that he would “review [your] allegations when I return on October 3.” He subsequently granted an interview to the Argus Observer on Monday about the basic decision last week, the Ontario newspaper reported.
The industrial project, intended to provide rail shipping of agricultural produce, is behind schedule and over budget.
The $3 million was awarded during a virtual meeting on Friday, Sept. 23, of the legislative Emergency Board. The board makes emergency grants when the Oregon Legislature isn’t in session, and the $3 million will come out of the state’s general fund, fueled largely by state income taxes.
The vote was 16-2, including supporting votes from the Legislature’s top Democrats, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Dan Rayfield.
“We have never said it could be built for $3 million.”–Brad Baird of Anderson Perry & Associates
Findley sits on the Emergency Board and told his colleagues Friday that the extra money would get the Nyssa project open.
“I’m absolutely comfortable that this will finish the project,” Findley said.
At another point, he said, “The facility will be operational from this” and that the project developers then “will be able to turn this building over to an operator.”
A legislator questioned Findley about that, asking, “Are there additional funds needed beyond the $3 million to get the project to be operational?”
Findley’s response: “I do not believe there are.”
He continued, “My conversations with the development corporation board and the engineer is that the facility will be operational.”
But records of the Malheur County Development Corp., the public company building the center, contradict Findley. The senator also serves on the company board, privy to its records.
Brad Baird is president of Anderson Perry & Associates of La Grande. The company is overseeing construction and Baird has been responsible for developing project budgets.
In an Aug. 9 report to the company board, Baird wrote that even with $3 million from legislators, “Additional funds will still need to be secured to properly equip the building.”
In early September, Baird wrote state officials that, “We are hoping this $3 million request will allow us to build the building foundation, floor and erect the building. We can then secure additional funding to wrap up the building and roads.”
And in an email one week before the Emergency Board session, Baird wrote to other project leaders: “It is apparent there is considerable confusion about the building. We have never said it could be built for $3 million.”
Findley at least twice on Friday dismissed claims that more money would be needed to finish the reload center.
“There is the list going around, ‘Well, you need another five or $6 million.’ That’s simply not true,” he told legislators.
Project records show otherwise.
Baird detailed the need in an Aug. 23 “Project Update and Budget Information” shared with development company directors.
He calculated that even with $3 million from the Legislature, the project still would need “$6 million to completely finish.” He highlighted the statement in yellow.
He repeated the information to state officials on Sept. 8, reporting that the “total needed funding” included “$6 million (additional need to wrap up the project).”
One state senator questioned Findley about reports that the project was short $9 million.
“The $9 million number’s out there a long time ago that included everything you could imagine in your order list and that’s gone,” Findley said.
Project records show the $9 million figure was developed a month ago.
Last year, Baird and his team eliminated one rail spur and truck scales as it became apparent costs were too high.
But the cost for the remaining elements of the project continued climbing this year. That prompted Baird to warn project officials as early as April that there wasn’t enough money in the state’s original $26 million grant to do all the work needed to open the reload center.
In August, Baird detailed elements not funded, including the building, its equipment and even a train engine to shuttle rail cars.
“TOTAL ADDITIONAL NEEDED: $9 million,” said the Aug 23 budget said, noting that $3 million of that was expected from legislators.
A legislative review repeated the number.
“The current estimated amount needed to complete the project totals $9 million, which would support building construction and equipment, paving access roads and utilities, and purchase of a yard engine,” the review said.
Project leaders anticipated hiring contractors this fall to put in the concrete foundation and raise the steel frame for the 60,000-square-foot building.
But where they will get the remaining $6 million is unclear. State programs that give grants or loans for economic development projects can’t be used for the Nyssa rail center, project leaders have said.
They are considering borrowing the money, though the source of such a loan, or the money source to repay such a loan hasn’t been disclosed. They also are considering asking for money again from Americold, the multinational company retained to operate the Nyssa center. The company turned down an earlier request for $2.5 million.
Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected]
EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM – Available for $7.50 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy, and an unwavering devotion to fairness. Get the kind of news you’ve been looking for – day in and day out from the Enterprise.