The Malheur County Development Corp. has been ordered to release records regarding spending of an estimated at $1 million on a rail track that the community was being told was postponed.
Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe in his public records order of Jan. 5 said “the law requires production” of documents sought two months earlier by the Enterprise.
The documents relate to what has become a controversial element of the Nyssa project – Track C. Project officials a year ago had set aside construction of one of four rail spurs to save money, but recently surprised county officials with a request for $2 million to build the rail line. Malheur County put up the money.
But project officials said in recent meetings that work already had been done on the fourth line though no contract for such construction had been awarded. That included filling in a deep wetland to provide a bed for the rail at a cost that contractor documents indicate was as much as $1 million.
The newspaper alerted Grant Kitamura, company president, and the entire board of the development company that promised public documents still hadn’t been received.
Greg Smith, project manager for the Treasure Valley Reload Center, and Brad Baird, project engineer with Anderson Perry & Associates, haven’t responded to written questions about the matter.
Grant Kitamura, an onion industry executive who presides over the development corporation, and Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce didn’t respond to emails sent Thursday, Jan. 5, regarding the district attorney’s order.
Goldthorpe issued the order under the Oregon Public Records Law after Smith and his team repeatedly said the documents sought by the newspaper would be released. Goldthorpe found that there was an “unjustified delay in producing the responsive records after repeated assurances they would be provided.”
On Oct. 27, the Enterprise sought from Kitamura, Smith and the development company records showing who authorized work on the suspended rail line and at what cost. Total costs on the contract for earthwork are expected to be nearly $14 million – about $8 million more than budgeted.
“The intent is to obtain any record supporting statements by Brad Baird that earthwork already done at the site in fact included earthwork to bring the path of Track C “out of the water.” The intent of this request is to trace who made that decision to construct part of the Track C path, when it was made, and what specifically were directions” to the contractor, the request said.
Smith said in an email he and the development corporation had the records and they would be provided on Dec. 2. Smith provided other records on that date and said that “Anderson Perry will be responding separately with documents in their possession.”
Four days later on Dec. 6, Baird, the engineer, told the newspaper in an email that his firm has been “very busy and buried in with work” but would provide the public documents two days later. He didn’t.
On Dec. 13, the newspaper alerted Kitamura and the entire board of the development company that promised public documents still hadn’t been received and that a petition to Goldthorpe was likely. Kitamura didn’t respond and board members who received the notice and who didn’t respond were Corey Maag of Jamieson Produce in Vale, Jason Pearson of Eagle Eye Produce in Nyssa and Kay Riley, retired executive of Snake River Produce in Nyssa. The company’s attorney, Brian DiFonzo of Yturri Rose in Ontario, also didn’t respond.
Smith, representing the development corporation, wrote later that day, “We spoke with Brad just now, he has been very busy but plans to get the documents compiled and sent” within two days.
The newspaper petitioned Goldthorpe when the documents were not disclosed.
READ IT: Malheur Enterprise petition
In his order, Goldthorpe noted that he couldn’t assess whether “any such records are being hidden or withheld” but that “it does not matter if the records are currently in the physical custody of MCED or instead with one of their contractors, the law is the same.”
Goldthorpe also ordered the development corporation to provide the documents without charging a fee.
READ IT: District attorney’s order
Smith and his team have faced previous orders from Goldthorpe to turn over public documents regarding the project. He has yet to comply with an order from June 27 to turn over budget documents for the project.
The Enterprise has sued Smith, the development corporation and Malheur County over their handling of public records matters. That case is pending in Malheur County Circuit Court.
Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].
HOW TO SUBSCRIBE – The Malheur Enterprise delivers quality local journalism – fair and accurate. You can read it any hour, any day with a digital subscription. Read it on your phone, your Tablet, your home computer. Click subscribe – $7.50 a month.