By John L. Braese
VALE – A Colorado company recently paid a two decade-old debt to the city of Vale against a closed mushroom plant but what triggered the $36,000 payment isn’t clear.
The check covers past water services provided to Western Heritage Investments by the city. The company, which owns the property where a mushroom plant once operated, still owes $44,000 for sewer services, according to city officials.
The plant was operated by Oregon Trail Mushrooms and closed in 2007. Oregon Trail’s parent company subsequently went bankrupt in Colorado.
Delivered by mail to city hall, the payment for the past-due water bill came in a check from PNM Holdings Inc. of Sedalia, Colo. The company has no telephone listing or other publicly available contact information.
The $36,000 payment comes as a separate Canadian firm pursues plans to build a new mushroom plant just outside Vale.
Oregon Trail Mushrooms was established in 1988 and had commercial production of more than eight million pounds annually. The Oregon operation was a subsidiary of Rakhra Mushroom Farm Corp., whose authority to operate in Oregon was cancelled by the state in 2011.
Baljit Nanda of Colorado was a majority owner of the parent company and, according to online biographical postings, he owned a grocery chain and managed a mushroom operation in Colorado.
In December 2007, the Vale plant reported a bad batch of compost would forced closure so the plant could be cleaned out and disinfected. It never reopened.
As liens accumulated against Oregon Mushroom, the parent company fell into financial trouble and filed for bankruptcy.
In testimony in 2013, Nanda described how he and others earlier had acquired the Colorado mushroom company and turned it into a million-dollar enterprise. He described acquiring the Vale operation in 1988.
“That farm was in a similar situation that was losing about a million and a half dollars a year, and it took us about eight months with me and my team to turn their farms around and make it profitable,” he testified.
Nanda then testified he sold the Vale facility, but Malheur County records show Western Heritage remained as the property owner and owes $50,000 in local property taxes.
County records also show federal and state tax liens totaling $628,038 for unpaid payroll taxes remain against Oregon Trail Mushrooms.
In his bankruptcy court testimony, Nanda said that “I’m very poor in the accounting and the tax. I’m more into management and the operation.”
When questioned about outstanding payroll taxes for the parent Colorado company, Nanda said that wasn’t his responsibility.
“You don’t have anything to do with handling the payroll or the payroll taxes?” he was asked.
“No sir,” replied Nanda. “I didn’t really look at what cash came in, what cash went out,” he replied.
Colorado Mushroom, the successor to parent company, said through a spokesman Friday that the company has no interest in the Vale property and only operates one facility in Alamosa, Colorado.
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