Obstacles to truth in Malheur County

Good morning.

We want to share with you our continuing efforts to get the facts about the Treasure Valley Reload Center.

The news is that Greg Smith’s team, managing the Nyssa rail project, says it has been surprised by late word that a fourth rail spur is required.

The team in charge says the project needs $2 million more and the want it now – and from Malheur County.

All of this has raised a lot of questions.

Smith and Brad Baird, lead engineer for the project, aren’t providing any answers.

There is, for instance, confusion about how this news was delivered to the project team in the first place.

At a recent meeting, the three top officials gave these accounts of hearing from RailPros, the national rail engineering firm:

Brad Baird, president of Anderson Perry & Associates:

“We’ve recently had correspondence from RailPros that has indicated that track C is a must, in the eyes of the railroad. And the way the wording was in the notification to us is the railroad is not going to approve this overall. project without seeing it.”

 Greg Smith, project manager:

“The communication has been verbal with RailPros.” 

Grant Kitamura, president of Malheur County Development Corp.

“There were no documents for that issue.”

When the Enterprise attempted to follow up with questions, Smith declared he wasn’t answering any from the newspaper.

Still, the Enterprise sent written questions to Smith and Baird, seeking clarity on how such a major development could occur so late in the project.

There has been no response.

The newspaper turned to its last resort – a public records request. The newspaper sought any document related to the matter of this last-minute construction crisis. The request was made to Smith, Malheur County Development Corp., and Grant Kitamura, president of the development corporation.

We were upfront about what we were trying to accomplish:

“The intent is to determine what steps the Respondents took to modify any contract requirement addressing the installation of Track C. The available record indicates that the Respondents either concealed or deliberately misled key partners, those charged with governing the project, and the Malheur County community. The record suggests that the Respondents may have known all along that this Track C was a requirement and that they delayed moving ahead with this element to create a financial emergency that public agencies and taxpayers would have to confront.”

Kitamura, who has been president of the development corporation from its founding in 2017, responded: “I do not possess nor have I seen any of the mentioned documents.”

Smith responded that providing such public records would take five weeks.

“If records are found, they will be provided no later than Friday, December 2nd,” indicating that the project manager in charge didn’t know if the operation had any documents related to his October surprise.

Twice, we wrote to County Judge Dan Joyce and Commissioners Ron Jacobs and Don Hodge. We asked them to help. In a second email, sent Thursday, I wrote: “I am asking you again to intercede to see that these records are provided soon. It would seem you would be as interested as the public in what they would show.”

No one responded.

Then, last week, Baird described the use of all four rail spurs. The way he told it, the reload center couldn’t operate without all four. That raises the question of why Smith and his team would not include such a vital rail component before now.

We sent the following email to Smith, Baird and Kitamura on Thursday, Nov. 3:

So far, no answer.

We share this so you, the taxpayer and Malheur County citizen, know what’s going on behind the scenes as we try to get you the truth.

Many of you, now including county commissioners, have questions that are going unanswered.

As we continue to shine the light on this, we appreciate the messages of support and encouragement we get from you. This is very challenging work for a small news team in a small community. Here’s part of one recent note from a reader:

 “I, too, believe that this project needs to be audited and managed from this point forward by individuals with no prior ties to this project.  Having been in both the military and the construction industry, managing multi-million-dollar budgets as well as overseeing construction contracts, the way this project has been mismanaged is not only negligent but criminal.”

If you want to voice your opinion, here are three key people and their emails:

Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce: djoyce@malheurco.org

Grant Kitamura, MCDC president: [email protected]

Greg Smith, project manager: [email protected]

As always, we will persist, no matter how much these officials want to duck and dodge accountability that is costing taxpayers ever more money.

–Les Zaitz, editor and publisher

Comment? Email me at [email protected].

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Have a tip? Let us know….

We get some of our best stories and photos after tips from readers. If you have an idea on something we can report on or just have questions about something happening in the community, send an email to Editor Les Zaitz at [email protected].