Business & economy

Permit glitches impede progress on rail reload project

NYSSA – Building permits have not been issued for the Treasure Valley Reload Center because the county continues to find errors and missing parts in the plans submitted by project engineers.
That is holding up construction of the main terminal building on a project already far behind schedule.
Brad Baird, lead engineer on the project, conceded the design flaws but said his firm was correcting them.
“There is no impact to schedule or costs,” said Baird.
But Shawna Peterson, MCDC executive director, said that Nelson Construction is on standby. She said the company is only paid once the work starts.
“Waiting on the pending permitting does not increase cost,” Peterson said. “However, if there are changes necessary to meet code that do not afford savings in other ways, I think that would result in increased costs.”
The construction on the warehouse building was to start May 1. Contractor crews for now are limited to working the ground.
Ron Jacobs, Malheur County commissioner, said last week he is “frustrated” with the progress of construction.
“I feel like a lot of this stuff should have been taken care of quite some time ago,” said Jacobs.
Public records and interviews show that project officials were notified more than a year ago about county permitting processes. Construction bids were sought last spring and money to erect the building was approved by legislators last September.
Anderson Perry and Associates of La Grande has provided engineering work on the project for more than five years. The firm didn’t file for county permits until late March as Nelson Construction prepared to start work under its $3 million contract.
This isn’t the first time Anderson Perry’s work for the development company has run into permit trouble. The company took months longer than expected to get federal and state permit for construction in wetlands on the Nyssa site.

Agencies held up approvals over missing or inadequate plans.
The latest glitch comes as project leaders anxiously await an independent review of Anderson Perry’s design work. That review, initiated by the Malheur County Court, was sought by legislators to ensure recent cost estimates from Anderson Perry were valid. The Ontario engineering firm recently sought an extra two weeks to finish its work, and now expects to report back to the county by May 24.
The financial fate of the project hinges on the findings. County officials are asking for $8.5 million more in state money to finish the project. Legislators this month will begin shaping the next state budget in which they would include such funding.

READ IT: County denial letter 
Since March, county building and zoning officials have poured over building and wastewater plans submitted by Anderson Perry and discovered numerous defects.
Last week, Eric Evans, Malheur County planning director, denied a permit to install a septic system for the terminal building. Evans cited “huge design flaws.”
Adele Schaffeld, Malheur County building inspector, separately identified other missing components needed for her to evaluate whether the design meets Oregon’s building requirements.
“Code compliance is very wide open to interpretation,” Baird said. “This has been a moving target.”
Baird recently characterized the permit issues as usual in a report to the board of Malheur County Development Corp., the public company in charge of the project. He conceded the process has been “laborious” because county officials repeatedly asked for more design details. A month later, he described the process as “complicated.”
Anderson Perry is under a $1.85 million contract to manage construction.
Records obtained by the Enterprise show that in January 2022, Schaffeld sent to the engineering firm at 16-page checklist to guide them through the permitting process and required analysis of plans to ensure they complied with Oregon building codes.
“Once your code specialist has the code analysis and code information on the plan I would be happy to review them,” Schaffeld wrote.
Schaffeld said in an interview she received no reply.
In March 2022, project engineers sought bids to build “a fully functioning warehouse and office facility.”
No work had been done to obtain building permits ahead of the bidding and construction was postponed over costs.
“You pursue the permit once you have a contractor on board.  You don’t pursue a permit until you know you can actually construct,” Baird said in a recent email.
Schaffeld, who has run the county building department since 2019, said that most commercial projects “don’t go out for bid until the permit is ready to issue.”
In September 2022, legislators made a special allocation of $3 million. That was expected to pay for the foundation for the warehouse and erection of the steel framing.
Nelson Construction submitted the winning bid in December.
Records show that Anderson Perry applied for the building permit on March 20 – a little over 30 days before construction was slated to begin. Those plans included a blueprint for the foundation and shell of the terminal building.
Schaffeld alerted the company about a week later that “glancing” at the plans revealed gaps.
“Your plans are missing most of the code data – doors, door hardware, window schedule, storage layout (height of storage), there is no occupant load. That is what drives several code requirements,” she wrote.
Bill Ledbetter, an engineering technician with Anderson Perry, pressed to get the permit issued.
“The awarded contractor is ready to go and is waiting for you to complete your review and issue a permit to start work,” he wrote in an April 3 email.
Schaffeld responded that that the project hadn’t cleared county planning or environmental health steps. Those usually are required before a building permit can be processed, she said.
Three days later, Ledbetter again pressed, saying the contractor wanted to start foundation excavation by May 1 – less than a month away.
“I wanted to share this date with you to see if this is feasible and if you think we would have a building permit by this time,” Ledbetter wrote. “I just have a lot of individuals asking when the project will start and have explained the process of planning/building reviews.”
She dashed his hopes the next day.
“The permit will not be issued based on the information submitted,” she wrote in an April 7 email.
She indicated she pulled the reload center plans out of pending line and put it at the front.
“This is a complex building that will take time to review,” she wrote. “Anderson Perry has been reviewing this large complex project for over a year and I just received the submittal.”
She said a May 1 start date wasn’t feasible.
“It is unfortunate that the code review was delayed as the building and parts of the building have already been through the bidding cycle without the benefit of plan review,” she said.
Baird said that was the source of the permitting troubles is clear. He said there was a misunderstanding between the development company and the Malheur County Building Department. The initial plans submitted to the county covered only the permits for the building foundation, floor slabs and erection of the building, he said in an email.
“The county turned this permit process into the entire facility, so of course our initial submittal was lacking information,” said Baird.
Schaffeld explained inspectors have to confirm an entire project meets building code before construction can start on even portions of a building.
She said it wasn’t sensible to erect a building “if you cannot use it due to not meeting code compliance.”
The plans submitted didn’t include specifications for the building such as a ceiling grid. Also missing was a fire sprinkler system and information regarding whether the building could support the load of such a system.
Later plans adjusted the design to remove the need for a fire sprinkler system, but Schaffeld said she is still assessing that change.
She also said that a fire access road “was not addressed in the permit documents submitted. They were not there. They didn’t even have a parking lot in the submittal.”
Baird suggested county officials should have known about fire access.
“The main roads are the fire access, but we didn’t show them,” Baird said. “We figured that was common knowledge with all the site plans that are out there.”
The plans also were missing details on how utilities such as electricity and water would be connected to the building. Baird said last week that “this design isn’t finalized yet for these last site items.”
Baird reported to the development company board on May 2 that the building permits had become “complicated.” He gave no indication the design plans were considered flawed or inadequate.
Last week, Anderson Perry submitted yet another set of plans to address the county’s concerns.
But those plans, Schaffeld said, were “not code compliant even for a permit for the shell and foundation.”
As those building plans have moved through reviews, a separate county department identified still more flaws.
On May 9, the county Environmental Health Department denied a permit to build a wastewater treatment system as designed by Anderson Perry. The denial listed eight deficiencies that needed to be corrected.
That included a finding that the septic tank proposed for the warehouse building couldn’t legally be used in Oregon.
“There are huge design flaws. There are components required in septic systems they left out. There are definitely big flaws in the design,” said Evans, director of the Environmental Health Department.
Baird said the concerns have been addressed.
“The county wants a few revisions to the design before approving it,” he wrote in an email last week. “The revisions are done and already submitted back to the county.”

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

Previous coverage:

Rail reload center manager says cash woes may slow progress on project

Request to state for help grows as Smith walks away from Nyssa rail project

County inks deal with local engineering firm to conduct review of rail reload project

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