VALE – Malheur County officials want to stay in the land development business but plans remain vague and money is short, according to a report by a Portland consulting firm. Mackenzie, a land engineering firm, said in a five-page report that more work needs to be done to decide what to do with Arcadia Industrial Park – and where money will come from to turn farm fields into industrial worksites.
The Malheur County Court retained the firm earlier this year for $10,000 to help decide what to do with the land.
The county’s top official, Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce, said he hasn’t read the March 24 report because there was “nothing final in it.”
The county bought 290 acres in 2019 north of Nyssa for $3 million for the industrial park and since then local taxpayers have been on the hook to repay the county’s loan for the acquisition.
No cost estimates were cited in the report, but the county in 2020 sought $15 million in federal funds to develop the park.
About 65 acres was sold to the Malheur County Development Corp. for the Treasure Valley Reload Facility while another five acres was ceded to the Farmer family, the previous owners of the land. About 80 acres remains zoned for farming. Now, about 140 acres can be developed for an industrial park.
The report, penned by Gabriela Frask, land use planner for Mackenzie, is the culmination of a private information gathering session between Mackenzie, county officials and select local residents regarding the future of the industrial park.
Among those involved were Eric Evans, county planning director, Stephanie Williams, county counsel, and Jim Maret, Nyssa city manager. Those consulted included Ron Jacobs, Malheur County commissioner, local resident Bob Quick, Stephen Perrott, chief financial officer of Fort Boise Produce in Parma, Ralph Poole, a retired Ontario businessman, Larry Wilson, a real estate agent and former county commissioner, and Riley Hill, former Ontario mayor and a residential developer.
Williams said those people “were knowledgeable about development in Malheur County.”
The county appears poised to move ahead with industrial development despite the continuing problems with the rail shipping center. That project, initiated under county supervision, is years behind schedule. Construction stalled with project leaders ran out of money and completion now is dependent on at least $8.5 million more in state funding.
The industrial park continues to be farmed, with traces of a couple of streets bulldozed out of the dirt and weed-shrouded signs promoting the property. Industry could be served by spurs off the rail lines being installed to serve Treasure Valley Reload Center.The report said those consulted said there was a “need and desire for shovel ready industrial land to meet market demand” but cited no information about that demand. It suggested that agricultural interests would want to locate to the Nyssa industrial park.
“It is well established that major agriculture users exist with current, significant industrial needs in the region,” the report said without citing sources. “These users may be a significant percentage of the overall vision for this industrial development.”
The report noted that Nyssa’s land use strategy “calls for a focus on rail dependent users and agricultural processing, warehouse and distribution.”
One immediate need is to develop a plan for the industrial park. While those consulted indicated they wanted the county to handle the work, the consultants said another option is for the county to sell or lease land to others to develop, the report said.
The report also urged the county to seek grants through the state and the federal government.
No cost estimates were cited in the report, but the county in 2020 sought $15 million in federal funds to develop the park. Federal authorities rejected the application as “unacceptable.”
The consultants urged public involvement, apparently in reference to controversy that developed over the rail shipping center.
The county should “separate development opportunities for the industrial park from the reload center.”
The report urged open houses to tell the community about plans and what the results for the community would be “with sensible investment in this asset.”
The analysis was useful, said Williams.
“They gave us some good ideas. For instance, that community piece, a public open house much like ODOT (the state Transportation Department) does, where they go to the cultural center and do a presentation,” said Williams.
Williams said the study could be a trigger for grant applications to develop the property.
Malheur County Commissioner Ron Jacobs, who has a leading role in developing the industrial project, didn’t respond to interview requests or to written questions. Jacobs also has been instrumental in recent funding efforts to finish the rail shipping center.
Joyce said the shipping center needs to be up and running before in-depth development work could begin on the industrial park.
“You have to have the rail hook-up first,” he said.
Joyce said the county hired Mackenzie because there was no plan for the property.
“We were never far enough along to do anything like that,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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