Malheur County economic officials acknowledge they need to provide “tough answers” to questions about the proposed rail shipping center but they don’t want the state to “dictate unnecessary restrictions” for getting $26 million.
Greg Smith, Malheur County economic development director, said in a letter made public Tuesday that the Oregon Transportation Commission should award the money and fulfill “a promise made by Governor Kate Brown.”
The state commission is scheduled to consider the Treasure Valley Reload Center at its meeting in Salem Thursday.
In the letter dated Feb. 14 and addressed to commission chair Tammy Baney, Smith addressed risks and concerns raised about the project by state officials and their consultants.
The reload center is seen by local officials as a major economic development project to boost the region’s agriculture industry. The rail shipping center would be built with state money on acreage north of Nyssa, and would provide shippers a way to move produce from Malheur County to major markets.
“The Malheur County Development Corporation appreciates the questions and concerns raised by all who have looked at the proposal,” Smith wrote. “Many are tough questions with tough answers required.”
Smith said the development corporation, a public business created by the Malheur County Court, is “ready to answer those concerns and use of public dollars.”
Smith took head on a key concern of state officials – that there is no agreement with Union Pacific Railroad to serve the Nyssa project. Smith has said the railroad is committed, and he reiterated that in his letter.
He said the railroad is “prepared to issue a unilateral service letter” to the county and then have its sales representatives work with county officials “to prepare a customer base and reach out to those looking for service.”
Smith noted that both a state consultant and a special review committee “expressed concern regarding the economic viability of an onion-based facility.”
He didn’t provide any additional details to show the shipping center would operate in the black, instead noting that the development company “has been inundated with requests for information from a varied mixture of business interests regarding use of the facility.”
That included hay producers, equipment dealers, seed growers and petroleum dealers, Smith wrote.
He also swatted down concerns that Cold Connect, the railroad’s existing shipping center in Wallula, Wash., poses a competitive risk to the Nyssa project.
“Cold Connect does not deliver to many of the markets used by local onion packing plants,” Smith wrote. “Increasingly, local products are not finding adequate rail service at the Washington facility.”
Smith urged the commission to approve the state funding reserved by the 2017 Legislature.
“We also ask the commission not to dictate unnecessary restrictions or conditions,” Smith wrote.
He said the project would be an economic asset to eastern Oregon.
“In addition to removing trucks from an interstate frequently closed during winter months, reducing carbon outputs and filling a new of many searching for transportation alternatives, the funding of the center fulfills a promise made by Governor Kate Brown.”
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