Around Oregon, Business & economy

State Libertarian Party calls out rail center projects

Oregon’s Libertarian Party said state lawmakers wasted millions in taxpayer money in 2017 by approving two rail centers. It wants $51 million refunded to the public.

The Treasure Valley Reload Center in Nyssa and the Millersburg rail shipping center in the mid-Willamette Valley promised to boost agriculture, reduce carbon emissions, and save farmers money. 

The $51 million the Oregon Legislature approved to build the truck-to-rail transfer stations to deliver onions, hay, and grass seed to Seattle and Tacoma and major cities in the Midwest and the East Coast that now sit unoccupied have been “one of the most blatant examples of government corruption,” according to Peter Vandenberg, chair of the policy committee for the Oregon Libertarian Party. 

Since being built, a press release for the Libertarians notes, “zero containers have been moved from either facility.”

According to Vandenberg, that Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, a Republican, pushed the Legislature to fund the projects through a state grant is telling in that it shows that the conservative party is not a viable alternative to the Democrats for Oregonians. 

Vandenberg said that while the Libertarian Party is not opposed to building rail centers in Nyssa and Millersburg, it is against government meddling in such projects. Had onion producers and farmers in eastern Oregon wanted a rail center to move their products, Vandenberg said, they would have collectively come together and invested themselves. 

Instead, Vandenberg said the government came in and said they knew better than those farmers because they wanted to take trucks off the road. 

The party has called on Gov. Tina Kotek to abolish the Oregon Transportation Commission, the governing body that sets transportation policy and approved the plans in Nyssa and Millersburg. Additionally, the party has appealed for an “immediate refund” of the $51 million spent on constructing the rail shipping centers. 

Vandenberg said Republicans hit on talking points that resonate with eastern Oregon voters, such as the free market, private property rights, and standing up to the liberal majority in Salem, but in reality, those GOP elected officials don’t have the voters’ best interests in mind. 

Vandenberg said the way elected officials do business in the left-right paradigm is more “theater” than he thinks most people realize. Democrat and Republican politicians will get the electorate fired up about “wedge issues” such as abortion and immigration. While those issues matter to people, they distract voters and allow public officials to line their pockets with projects like the rail centers. 

“This is a ton-of-money project that was approved years ago,” he said, “that is a complete failure.” 

He said the “kicker” was that Smith, who pushed for the projects in the Legislature, ended up managing the project in Nyssa. According to records, Smith’s consultant firm brought in $15,000 a month from 2018 to 2022 for economic development work in Malheur County. Smith was already the county’s economic development director when he lobbied Salem for the funding. He was paid an additional $6,000 monthly to manage the Treasure Valley Reload Center. 

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