Local government

As last contractor departs, unanswered questions remain regarding rail reload center

NYSSA – Leaders of the Treasure Valley Reload Center formally mothballed the multimillion-dollar project last week as the last contractor packed up and departed, leaving behind a partially finished construction site and unanswered questions about the future.

Now, local officials are focused on the near term, including cleaning up unpaid bills to contractors. To settle up, they will try to convince the state Transportation Department to break the padlock on a pot of money earmarked for the project by the Legislature in June.

The state agency notified project leaders in September that it planned to hold back $8 million set aside for the rail center until project leaders found a new operator for the facility and developed a new financial plan.

Americold, the original operator for the facility, pulled out of the project in July. Americold notified rail project leaders the shipping depot was not “financially viable” for the company.

The money held out by the transportation department was initially intended to pay for such items as the terminal building, equipment and site improvements such as rock roads, utilities plumbing and a parking lot.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 5, the Malheur County Development Corp., the public company set up by the Malheur County Court to oversee the project, approved payments on a number of outstanding bills.

The board agreed to pay $1.2 million to R6 Contracting Inc., and a $156,809 payment to Nelson Construction Corp, of Walla Walla, the company contracted to erect a warehouse and office building at the site.

Nelson Construction had remained in a holding pattern for months regarding moving ahead on the project. In an Aug. 24 letter, Shawna Peterson, the development corporation executive director terminated the contract with Nelson.

“Please know that this decision was unavoidable based on the funding availability and not a reflection of the MCDC board’s appreciation for your efforts and work on the project,” Peterson wrote.

Altogether board agreed to about $1.5 million in payments during the meeting.

The development corporation will pay the contractors out of county-backed line of credit and then seek to be reimbursed by the Transportation Department.

“That’s how it always worked. I would expect the state to give more scrutiny to make sure those costs were incurred before we paused (the project),” said Peterson.  

However, the state money remains firmly under lock and key and there is no guarantee the Transportation Department will agree to release money to pay old bills.

Erik Havig, manager of the Transportation Department’s planning section, said last week so far, the development company has not submitted a formal request for the money to be released.

“Once we get a formal request, we will see if those charges make sense to pay given the letter we sent. I can’t say what ODOT (the Transportation Department) will do with the request because it will go up the chain,” said Havig.

If the state balks at releasing money, the development company borrow from its bank to pay the bills. The county court recently paid out $1.4 million to clear earlier bank borrowing for the project.

The development company board also decided to decline paying some of the costs charged by the project engineering firm, Anderson Perry & Associates. Peterson explained she was disapproving about $8,500 in costs racked up for work completed on building permits for the project.

The permits were delayed after the county found errors and missing parts in the plans submitted by project engineers. Chas Hutchins, president of Anderson Perry, did not immediately respond to a voicemail last week seeking comment. The firm has been paid about $1.8 million so far for work on the Treasure Valley Reload Center.

Meanwhile, Peterson said in an interview that the next steps to secure and mothball the construction site will be considered by the board at its next meeting. Nelson Construction is expected to take up forms it set in place for foundation work, leaving trenches that will need to be filled for safety reasons.

That would mean the steel kit to make the warehouse building would stay on the ground and foundation work will have to be done over. Nelson Construction has charged $97,000 for mobilizing, meaning the costs to cover moving its equipment to Nyssa and setting up its work site.

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