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Senator defends push for $3 million; records contradict his rail project claims

State Sen. Lynn Findley denies he deployed misleading and false statements in September to get $3 million in state money for his associates handling the Treasure Valley Reload Center.

Findley said in a telephone interview Friday that he stood by his remarks to legislators in September and that he had been privately provided information that conflicts with financial details presented to project leaders. That includes his representation to legislators that the emergency $3 million “will finish the project.”

A new report released last week showed the project is even deeper in trouble than when Findley spoke. The shortfall to get the Nyssa center done is more than $8 million.

In September, Findley told legislators that reports of a significant cost overrun were untrue. An investigation by The Enterprise established the numbers he discounted in fact had been in the senator’s files for a month prior to his legislative appearance.

Given Findley’s assertions in September, legislators may resist any new pitch for another taxpayer bailout for the Nyssa project. One legislator warned in September that while state Emergency Board was approving the $3 million, project leaders alone were assuming any risk if more was needed, suggesting no further legislative help.

But project managers last week told directors of the Malheur County Development Corp., the public company managing the project, that going back to the Legislature was a likely option. The directors were presented a new budget analysis showing $8.5 million in new funding is needed to finish the project, an increase of about $2 million since Findley made his Salem pitch.

The impact of Findley’s misrepresentations in September isn’t clear.

He didn’t respond to written questions ­– he termed them “allegations” ­– that were provided to him a month ago. Findley, who maintains a state office in Vale, declined an interview when given a 10-day window to pick a time, saying, “I am not available.”

On Friday, Oct. 28, he called the Enterprise after being provided excerpts of this story to review for accuracy. He did not contest any excerpt.

“You’re just trying to discredit me,” he said in a short interview. “I do not believe I made false statements.”

He said his statements to legislators were based on private conversations with the project’s lead engineer and members of the development company board. He said Friday he couldn’t explain why they would tell him in private that all they needed was $3 million after repeatedly considering budget reports that the total was much higher.

Shipping onions

But the project engineer, Brad Baird of Anderson Perry & Associates, said in an email that the claim the center could run with $3 million was Findley’s view.

“I haven’t said you could ship onions from the building,” Baird said in an email.

None of the directors of the development corporation responded to questions about whether they had private consultations with Findley. That included Grant Kitamura, president of the development company, Corey Maag, Kay Riley and Jason Pearson.

Findley said Friday that unfunded costs reported by Baird represented a “wish list” from project engineers for items not required to operate the facility.

Findley was Vale city manager when he was named one of the first board members for the Malheur County Development Corp. created by county officials in 2017. He kept his seat even after he was appointed a state representative in 2018 and then state senator in 2020.

In his position as a director, Findley is better informed about the reload project than most people. While he has sporadically attended board meetings, records show he received material the other directors got – agendas, minutes, cost reports and budget reviews.

Money shortage worsens

The money shortage became more acute through the summer, and project leaders sent to directors, including Findley, detailed written reports from the Baird. He is president of Anderson Perry.

Each report tracked escalating costs which now have pushed the total cost from $26 million to an estimated $39 million.

To determine what the senator knew before his legislative appearance, the Enterprise requested documents that Findley held as a company director. He said in one email that he didn’t get any material that wasn’t shared with the Enterprise and turned over no records. He insisted in another email that had no recent budget documents for the project.

He saw one, he said, during a legislative tour in late August, referring to the project engineer as the source.

“The only budget specific document I have seen was the handout Brad passed out to legislators in August,” Findley wrote. “While I have seen the document, I did not receive a copy of it.”

The development company released records, however, showing he received budget documents throughout August.

A meeting packet sent to board members on Aug. 8, for instance, included a new report from Baird. He described how $3 million requested from the state would be used but then noted: “Additional funds need to be secured to finish the building and pave the roadways.”

Though he responded to the development company with an email that “I will not be able to attend,” Findley didn’t disclose that email or Baird’s report to the Enterprise.

Findley later acknowledged having at least one other budget report in his files – and it was perhaps the most significant accounting of project finances he would get ahead of his presentation to the Emergency Board.

‘My apologies’

After initially denying having any such document, Findley wrote “my apologies” to the Enterprise as he passed along an Aug. 23 report that “I had placed in a folder that was not included” in his earlier public records releases.

The document, labeled “PROJECT UPDATE AND BUDGET INFORMATION,” described anew the true financial condition of the project

Baird said project costs would exhaust the original $26 million grant from the state and the reload center would be far from done. “ADDITIONAL NEEDED = $9 million, less $3 million in September, results in $6 million to completely finish. $3.5 million of this is related to equipping the building,” he wrote.

Baird highlighted that section in yellow, making it conspicuous in his three-page report.

He has reported that more money was needed to install gravel streets and truck parking, buy a train engine to shuttle rail cars, and get utilities such as electricity and water to the reload center.

On the day he delivered his latest report, Baird also briefed visiting legislators about the project and budget challenges. Among those attending were legislators who serve with Findley on the legislative Emergency Board. That board meets from time to time to make emergency awards, typically to state agencies.

A month later, on Friday, Sept. 23, the Emergency Board convened in an online meeting. Legislators faced a long afternoon listening to one spending request after another. Nearly three hours in, it was time for Item No. 82 ­– the Treasure Valley Reload Center request.

Legislative analysts advised legislators against approving the $3 million for the shipping center, saying it was unclear the center would open as planned. Legislators should allow more time for a “more thorough evaluation of additional funding that may be needed,” the analysts wrote.

Findley dismissed the concern.

“There’s a list going around, well, you need another five or six million dollars. That’s simply not true,” Findley said.

But he had such a list in his files.

A colleague asked about reports that the project needed $9 million.

“The $9 million was out there a long time ago,” he said.

But his files contained a budget report dated just 30 days before the meeting that contained that number, and the figure has since grown to more than $11 million.

He told colleagues that he was “absolutely comfortable” that the extra $3 million “would finish the project” and get it open.

“My conversations with the development corporation board and the engineer is that the facility will be operational,” he said.

But there is no record he met with the board as a senator or that the board ever had such a conversation. There is no record the engineer reported that $3 million would get the Nyssa center running.

Source of information

On Friday, Findley said he didn’t talk to the full board but instead individual board members and to Baird, the engineer. They all told him $3 million would get the reload center into the shipping business.

Findley said no one told him the building would be raised but would not have features such as power or water service.

“I had made the assumption they would be there,” Findley said.

After listening to Findley in September, all but two legislators voted to approve the $3 million.

Following the meeting, the Enterprise sought from Findley’s Senate office email records since early August and any document supporting his key claims.

Through legislative attorneys, he released 308 pages of material, much of it duplicates of emails and agendas concerning the legislative tour of Malheur County. There was no record that contained the questionable information Findley presented to legislators.

One reason for the emergency plea in September was that project leaders had insisted they needed the money immediately to get the foundation built before winter. Last week, they put the work off until spring, citing delays and developing weather.

The board members meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25, also got the latest financial assessment. The new report showed $8.5 million more was needed even after getting the state’s emergency help.

Findley wasn’t at the meeting to hear the development.

Two weeks earlier, he resigned his board seat with no public notice.

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


Your guide to the Treasure Valley Reload Center – get the history, purpose and status

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