Local government

County court appoints two to rail reload board but one abruptly drops out

VALE – The Malheur County Court has appointed two new directors to the board of Malheur County Development Corp., the public company set up by the county to oversee the Treasure Valley Reload Center.
The court chose Ontario resident and former businessman Ralph Poole and Nyssa City Manager Jim Maret to join five other members of the development corporation board.
However, Maret notified the Malheur Enterprise on Monday, Dec. 5, that he would not accept the appointment. He declined to comment regarding why he chose to decline the post.
Continuing board members include Jason Pearson, director of onion sales for Eagle Eye Produce in Nyssa; Greg Smith, a contractor and state legislator from Heppner; Grant Kitamura, general manager and part owner of the onion packing facility Baker & Murakami Produce Co; Corey Maag, Vale-area farmer and owner of Y1 Farms and Jamieson Produce and Kay Riley, a retired onion industry executive.
Maret and Poole were among four people who applied for a seat on the board. The other two candidates were Bob Quick, a Nyssa photographer, and Mike Walker, an Adrian-area farmer who regularly attends development corporation board meetings.
There was no public process to apply for the open positions and knowledge of the vacant positions appears to have been by word of mouth.
The reload center is designed so onion producers can truck their produce to the site north of Nyssa for loading onto rail cars for shipment to destinations in the Midwest and East.
The majority of the funding for the project comes from a $26 million outlay approved by the Oregon Legislature in 2017, and two $3 million special appropriations, one in 2021 and a second one September.
Unexpected cost overruns, though, pushed the total projected price of the rail shipping center to $39 million.
The latest, and maybe the most significant, cost overrun was revealed in October when the development corporation divulged that Union Pacific Railroad warned it won’t serve the Nyssa center unless a fourth rail spur is added. Installation of the other three rail spurs is well underway and expected to be finished soon.
To cover that spur and other construction costs, the rail center board decided to seek an immediate grant of $2 million from the county and another $1.5 million from the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board. The development corporation submitted an official request to the county last month and members were scheduled to appear before the border board Monday to ask for money.
The board will also seek $1 million from an undisclosed source to help bridge the financial gap.
Without an infusion of more money, the development company could be short nearly $400,000 to pay bills soon coming due, according to a budget analysis from project managers.
Late last month, a special report by the Enterprise discovered the development corporation had ignored state law and contract provisions setting out how contractors’ final bills will be paid. As a result, the development company owes more than $850,000 it doesn’t have – and that tab grows by the day. Those constructing the Treasure Valley Reload Center are owed interest on that unpaid sum, but project manager Greg Smith said his team has no record of that additional cost or even the interest rate.

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