Business & economy

Smith resigns from Nyssa rail project management

UPDATE: 3 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21 – Malheur County Development Corp. has announced a public board meeting in Nyssa on Thursday, Feb. 23, to consider operations going forward.

Greg Smith has resigned as project manager of the troubled Treasure Valley Reload Center, ending a tenure troubled by cost overruns, construction troubles and a shortage of money.

He has managed the project since it emerged as an idea in 2015, through state appropriations in 2017, and a recent halt in work over the lack of money.

He worked most of that time for Malheur County, but he switched in August to work directly for the public company set up by county officials – the Malheur County Development Corp.

His work was through his private company, Gregory Smith & Company.

“I wanted to let you all know that Gregory Smith & Company will officially be resigning from all Malheur County Development Corporation related duties on February 28th. We will do everything in our power to ensure a smooth transition during this time,” Smith wrote in an email to company directors on Friday, Feb. 17.

Smith provided no explanation in the notice for why he was leaving.

The Enterprise obtained the email on Tuesday, Feb. 21, through a public records request.

“We will do everything in our power to ensure a smooth transition during this time,” Smith wrote. “I look forward to seeing the grand opening of the reload center.”

Malheur County Commissioner Ron Jacobs said Smith called him on Thursday, Feb. 16, and told him of his intentions.

Smith did not make clear whether he was resigning his seat on the board on the development company or his role as officer to the board. His appointments to those posts were made by the Malheur County Court. Smith couldn’t be reached immediately for comment, though he responded to an email to his state email seeking comment that it was “incredibly inappropriate” to contact at that public email address.

The board of the development company has scheduled a public meeting in Nyssa, scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at the Waldo Conference Center, 218 Main St. The meeting also will be accessible via this Zoom link.

The agenda shows the board will consider “assignment of duties” that include budget tracking and “Americold interactions,” referring to the company contracted to run the shipping center,

Smith’s resignation comes as the development company struggles to find money to pay bills and keep the project going. All work stopped in December, and Smith was pursuing another $6.5 million to get the reload center done later this year.

The development company learned recently that contractors who were owed nearly $1 million for work already done had been asked to hold their bills because there was no money to pay them. Such a move spared the development company from having past-due bills that would accrue interest.

In a draft letter to the editor dated Friday, Feb. 10, Smith described the “the trials and tribulations during the project’s lifespan including the Covid pandemic, historic inflation, labor shortages and fuel price hikes.” The letter was obtained through a public records request.

“The project is not without its struggles,” Smith wrote. “With significant soft soils and hurdles aforementioned, the TVRC’s original budget of $25.6 million from a ConectOregon grant is being exhausted.”

He described the need for an extra $6.5 million “to completely finish out the project and ensure that all contractors are made whole at the end of their efforts.” He said the development company board “wants the public to know that the Treasure Valley Reload Center will be a tremendous asset to Malheur County as well as the entire Treasure Valley.”

Construction on the former Nyssa farmland started in December 2021 but quickly bogged down with ground conditions worse than expected. Earthwork to prepare the farmland to hold a warehouse building and rail spurs had been contracted at about $5.5 million. The work went months longer than expected and ended up costing $13.7 million.

Smith’s company, based in Heppner, was being paid $9,000 a month to manage the project. The fee is covered by Malheur County, which also is covering borrowing costs and other expenses.

Smith served as Malheur County’s economic development director from 2013 until last July. He resigned that work, citing a “toxic” environment, but kept the shipping center task.

He also holds a full-time job in Boardman with the Columbia Development Authority and contracts with other public entities. He is the longest-serving member of the Oregon House, a Republican serving House District 57, which does not include Malheur County.

This is a developing story.

Reporters Pat Caldwell and Steven Mitchell contributed reporting.

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


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State’s fund for rail center nearly exhausted but millions in costs remain, records show

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