State Sen. Lynn Findley sounded like a determined watchdog last week.
He spoke up at the Joint Ways and Means Committee meeting in Salem on Friday, Feb. 17. Findley, a Republican from Vale, sits on the committee.
He told other legislators – including state Rep. Greg Smith – that he had “significant concerns” with the “cost of this warehouse, the overruns on this.”
Findley went on: “I think it would be imperative if we could have a more in-depth, better understanding of what’s going on. We have spent a ton of money, most of it after the fact with incredible overruns.”
He told legislators, “This is scary. This is a whole lot of money we’re talking about.”
The project that had him concerned?
State work to build a new warehouse and headquarters in Canby for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. That’s 400 miles away from the heart of Findley’s district in Vale. (You can watch his remarks on the video at this link, starting at about minute 43:00)
Findley’s push for transparency and answers stands in stark contrast to his attitude towards the Treasure Valley Reload Center.
As the Enterprise reported last week, Findley is pushing at the Legslature to put another $5 million of public money into the project.
He won’t answer questions about it from the Enterprise. He claimed immunity to avoid disclosing records on the matter from his Senate office.
The Treasure Valley Reload Center has cost overruns – a $26 million project is on the way to becoming a $40 million project.
As the senator said about a project far from his district, “this is a whole lot of money.”
The senator’s conduct on behalf of his friends in charge of the reload center is one reason the Enterprise continues detailed reporting on this Nyssa project.
In the past two weeks, the team at the Enterprise has produced five in-depth stories raising new questions.
This is tough work for a small newsroom. But it’s our duty to you, the people and taxpayers of Malheur County. We simply can’t look the other way as those in charge spend your money with little oversight.
We will continue to pursue the facts. Silence from the senator, from his friend Greg Smith, from every director on the board of Malheur County Development Corp., and Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce requires us to rely on meetings and on one public records request after another. Just this year, we have submitted 24 requests.
We hear from many citizens that they do count on us to do this work. My pledge to you is that we will not relent on pursuing the truth. You deserve that, no matter how much the powers that be want to keep it from you.
–Les Zaitz, editor and publisher ([email protected])
Here is our recent reporting:
SALEM – State Sen. Lynn Findley doesn’t want to talk about his role in the unfinished Treasure Valley Reload Center.
Findley, a Republican from Vale, took the unusual step last week of invoking constitutional immunity to block a request for his state records on the Nyssa project.
He did so even as officials working on the rail project confirmed the senator is involved in asking for more state money. He is joined in that effort by state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane.
In an unprecedented move, managers of the Treasure Valley Reload Center have asked contractors to hold off sending in bills because there isn’t money to pay them. They are owed about $1 million.
The two main contractors, R6 Contracting Inc. and RailWorks Track Systems, finished their primary work at the Nyssa site in December.
“Obviously, you have to pay them once they’re done,” said Brad Baird, project engineer who is president of Anderson Perry & Associates.
Project managers trying to get the Treasure Valley Reload Center finished will ask state legislators for a fourth helping of public money, according to documents obtained by the Enterprise.
Greg Smith, the contractor managing the Nyssa project, alerted state officials in January that he expects to seek another $3 million from the Oregon Legislature. He didn’t detail what shipping center costs the money would cover.
He also said he was abandoning his pursuit of $1 million that he had described earlier as a near-certainty to cover cost overruns.
The remarks to the board seemed to come from a project manager both frugal and attentive to costs.
In somber tones, Greg Smith told the board of the Malheur County Development Corp. that he and the project engineer “are closely watching the budget.”
Smith has been in charge of the Treasure Valley Reload Center since 2017, paid by Malheur County to oversee budgets and keep costs in line. He alerted the board at its Jan. 12 meeting that budgetary challenges persisted.
“We’re having to look at it with a microscope,” he said.
Such a claim was misleading, based on newly-disclosed documents obtained by the Enterprise through public records requests.
Project leaders have incurred costs for the Treasure Valley Reload Center that leave them with just $5,612 of their $25.6 million state grant while the project remains far from done, according to documents released recently to the Enterprise.
They face another $1 million in contractor claims the state grant was intended to cover. How project managers will now pay those couldn’t be established.
The records also reveal that the Oregon Department of Transportation last month suspended paying project bills, awaiting revisions to its contract with Malheur County Development Corp. that expired in October. Meantime, borrowing costs for the reload center that are paid by the county are escalating.
The revelations came after construction crews packed up and left in December, their work disrupted because there was no money to pay them to keep going.
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