By Pat Caldwell
NYSSA – When Doug Dewar moved to Nyssa 25 years ago, it seemed to be a sleepy part of Malheur County.
Locals helped him move into his house and “Nyssa at that time had two stoplights,” said Dewar.
Nyssa, with a population of 3,188, is poised for growth with word that a multimillion-dollar rail shipping facility will be built just outside city limits.
And that is just fine with local residents such as DeWar, who has watched businesses close or leave town over the years.
“I think it would be a good thing for Nyssa because it would bring more jobs. I am just afraid Nyssa, if it doesn’t get something, will die,” said Dewar.
Last week Greg Smith, the county economic development director, said that Malheur County Development Corp., a public corporation established by the Malheur County Court, picked property along Arcadia Boulevard and adjacent to Union Pacific Railroad tracks for the proposed facility.
Smith said negotiations are underway with owners of three parcels to buy land that would become the rail shipping center and a new industrial park.
The rail center is seen by county and city officials as an economic game-changer and is expected to generate more than 125 jobs. At the rail shipping center, farm products are trucked in and loaded onto trains that can make a run to the East Coast in days. Each train holds several hundred truckloads of goods, lowering freight costs and speeding delivery.
A similar shipping center operates in Wallulah, Wash., where a two-mile circular track flows in and out of warehouses.
The Nyssa site is bounded by Columbia Avenue to the south, Gem Avenue to the north and Arcadia Avenue to the west. The northern parcel is farmland, separated by two other parcels by a defunct cement plant.
Nyssa City Manager Jim Maret could not contain his glee over the news. Like Dewar, Maret believes the rail shipping center will boost Nyssa’s economy.
“This is the start of a lot of good things for Nyssa in the near future,” said Maret.
Maret said the shipping center is just the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of growth.
“There will be a lot of other things that will come into play with this eventually,” said Maret. “Not every company that goes out there is going to want to have their offices out there.”
That means, he said, that firms connected to the center will put down roots in Nyssa.
Support of the rail shipping center is widespread, he said.
“The neat thing within our city itself is that all of the businesses, as a whole, want growth and everybody wants to see this particular facility proceed,” said Maret.
Scott McGinnis, president of the Nyssa Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, said the facility’s economic appeal is obvious.
“It will stimulate our economy. We are looking forward to having the jobs come in. That means those employees will be purchasing stuff from our restaurants, buying gas in town. I don’t see a downside,” said McGinnis
Nyssa residents won’t see construction crews at the site soon. The county development company must submit an application to the state Transportation Commission by Friday, Dec. 15, for its first round of funding from the $26 million allocated by the Legislature.
Smith also said the properties for the facility must be appraised. After that, an environmental and an archeological study are required for the area. Then the corporation must lock up the remainder of the money from the state. Smith said it could be 18 months before the preliminary work such as designs and permitting are done.
“I think it will be quicker than that,” he said.
Maret said Nyssa will have to make improvements to meet the needs of the facility.
“I see we will have to possibly run some water and sewer lines to them and we will have to do that without costing taxpayers any money,” said Maret. Maret said Nyssa would also need to develop a transportation plan to support the facility.
“We will be meeting more than likely with Greg Smith and the folks doing this project to get a good transportation plan,” said Maret.
The transportation plan is important, said Maret, because there will be more trucks in town when the facility is built.
“Some of those trucks will go down Columbia (Avenue) but the stuff coming from (Highway) 95 will probably go down one of the side streets in Nyssa. Which one I don’t know yet,” said Maret.
Another important piece for the future will be the creation of a business park adjacent to the rail facility. Now the rail facility properties are inside an enterprise zone but to make room for a business park the boundaries of the zone need to be adjusted. The first step in that process will be Dec. 20 when the Malheur County Court holds a public meeting regarding the border adjustments.
An enterprise zone is designed to attract businesses to a specific area in exchange for an exemption from local property taxes.
Once the court approves a resolution to modify the enterprise zone boundaries the city of Nyssa must also agree to the change.
Smith said a business park will inject more jobs into the area.
“We are trying to be proactive on it. We don’t have any demand right now, but we are looking at the map where in the future we will be promoting industrial development,” said Smith.
The border adjustment will be small. Officials seek to add .456 square miles to the zone.
Malheur County Counsel Stephanie Williams said adjusting the enterprise zone borders is “pretty simple to do.”
Portions of the area – including the concrete plant and the old city dump - was platted as an industrial subdivision in 1961. About 10 years ago the county court approved a move to replat the subdivision after several streets and railroad spurs were vacated.
County assessor records show the biggest parcel – 290 acres – is owned by Charles, James and Margaret Farmer of Nyssa. James Farmer, of Fort Boise Produce, was appointed to the development corporation board by Gov. Kate Brown and has recused himself from decisions on the acquisition.
A 79-acre lot south of the former Oregon Concrete Company plant is owned by Nyssa Industries, a company who president was once listed in state records as David Waldo, a local insurance executive, and the secretary was identified as Gene Stunz with Stunz Lumber of Nyssa.
An adjoining 36-acre lot is owned by Margo Bybee of Nyssa.
Exactly how the facility will impact Nyssa is an important question for Mayor Ross Ballard.
“We think good things could come from this, but we don’t have buo coo bucks to throw around. I just would like to know what we will have to do,” said Ballard.
Just how pivotal a rail shipping facility will be for the county came into sharp focus last week. Now local onion producers are fighting to get their product to market in a timely manner. That’s because shipping rates have climbed while there is as shortage of railroad cars. At the same time, trucks are in short supply because many are being used to ship Christmas trees from western Oregon to the east.
“If we had it right now it would be beneficial. Transportation is currently my biggest challenge,” said Tiffany Cruickshank of Snake River Produce in Nyssa.
Grant Kitamura, president of Baker-Murakami Produce, agreed.
“We are short of trucks and the truck rates have went up a buck or two bucks a 50-pound bag,” said Kitamura. Kitamura is also chairman of the Malheur County Development Corp.
Ontario was on the short list with Nyssa to be the site of the new facility and Mayor Ron Verini said he is pleased the county will host the rail center. Verini said he doesn’t know why Nyssa was chosen over Ontario, which got short notice of the selection.
“We were only notified moments before newspapers ran the article,” said Verini.
Ontario City Councilor Marty Justus said he found out about the decision on the front page of the Malheur Enterprise.
“I am disappointed that Ontario didn’t get the facility. But what is good for Nyssa is good for Malheur County and what is good for Malheur County is good for Ontario,” said Justus.
Justus said he has not heard the reason Nyssa was picked over Ontario.
“But I am looking forward to hearing one,” said Justus.
Have a news tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.