EDITORIAL: Rail project is moving again with good choices, more needs to be done

Officials in charge of the Treasure Valley Reload Center have been making good moves since Greg Smith walked away. The task now is to keep the focus, build trust and get this project done.

Local residents should be comforted that Shawna Peterson, an experienced Ontario attorney, is being brought in. Peterson has wisely proposed that she function as executive director. She outlined to project leaders in clear terms how she would advance the project.

Peterson has earned kudos locally and in state government for managing another public entity, the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board, better known as the Border Board. As executive director there, she works smoothly with local directors on the board. She also has built credibility and key relations in state government in Salem.

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Peterson brings to the project the promise of integrity and transparency. That is crucial going forward. The community is rightly suspicious of the Malheur County Development Corp. The Malheur County Court should not impede her service and instead rapidly approve money and agreements to get her to work.

The second major development is the honest request for enough money to get Treasure Valley Reload Center done. Up to now, figures on costs have been as squishy as a wetland and not worthy of faith.

As should have been done a year ago, county officials now are asking the Oregon Legislature for money. The key is that the county commissioners, at the instigation of the development company, are asking for enough money to put this project across the finish line. They aren’t cutting corners to put up a partially-done project, as has been the most recent strategy by project officials. They are now driving to ensure Malheur County gets what it has long planned ­– a rail shipping center that can spark industrial development.

The county commissioners should keep the momentum going. They have two seats to fill on the board of the development company. No time should be wasted in opening applications, conduct a public vetting, and give the board extra local muscle.

Job No. 1, though, is to convince legislators to chip in a fourth helping of state money. That will take more than a pleading letter from county commissioners and promises from the development company. The odds of gaining the $8.5 million requested go up considerably with broad support from the community.

The chance to do so includes a golden opportunity in late April. The Legislature’s budget-writing committee is making a rare journey to Ontario the listen. The Joint Ways and Means Committee will be key to deciding whether that money flows to finish the reload center. Community organizations should plan now how to unite behind the request, spurred by the Malheur County Court. Commissioners should not be content with just asking for the money. They should organize a parade of credible witnesses to greet the committee when it comes to town.

But one more development would make that ask a lot easier. That’s the public backing of Gov. Tina Kotek. The governor has been wisely focused recently on advancing her housing initiatives, which too will benefit Malheur County. But Kotek has professed support for the rail project before. The governor should now declare her own support for the $8.5 million needed for the Treasure Valley Reload Center.

Such a declaration certainly would polish her rural credentials, but it also would squarely put the might of state government behind the Nyssa project.

After years of struggles, mistakes and even lies, Malheur County is on the cusp of redeeming a reputation damaged by the rail project. Recent decisions have done much to start that work. The county’s people, businesses and local governments should step up to see that Kotek and legislators have good reason to say yes to that $8.5 million. – ­LZ