Greg Smith, director of the Malheur County Economic Development Department and project manager for the Treasure Valley Reload Center. (The Enterprise/FILE)
UPDATE: Greg Smiith's team issued a press release hours after this story appeared on the Enterprise website. See the entire release below.
NYSSA – Malheur County’s industrial park is on hold, but taxpayers are still paying costs for the dream.
Greg Smith, the county’s economic development director, said last week he was too busy to press plans for turning roughly 220 acres of farmland into an industrial complex he once said could provide 300 jobs.
That was news to Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge.
“He has never said to me he is not working on it,” Joyce told the Enterprise last week.
The Acadia Industrial Park is planned for land north of Nyssa, adjacent to the rail shipping center known as the Treasure Valley Reload Center.
While the state is funding the rail center, the county is on its own for the industrial park.
Since July 2018, the county has paid Smith’s company $6,000 under a contract that in part calls for work on the industrial park.
That principally meant finding $15 million that Smith and his team said is needed to put in utilities, streets and more rail lines to lure industry besides the commodity shipping facility.
But Smith last year botched an application to the federal government for that money. Federal authorities found the proposal “unacceptable.”
Smith subsequently said that his team learned from federal officials how to get Malheur County a favorable nod for the money. He has suggested that his team was pressing ahead to do so.
In a public relations piece issued to the community in December, Smith’s company said that, “We are striving towards making our 2021 grant submission successful.”
In another setting, Smith wrote, “We’re in an excellent position to reapply next year, with most of the heavy work behind us.”
That didn’t happen. The July deadline for this year’s round of funding came and went without a new application from Malheur County.
That means the county isn’t even in the running for the millions needed to develop the park.
To assess what work had been done towards the industrial park, the Enterprise requested all the county economic development team’s records documenting work on the federal grant since December.
Smith provided just 13 documents. Ten were generic emails from the U.S. Department of Transportation about online trainings on how to apply for the grant. Three documents were calendar entries at the county operation showing the dates of the training.
But no document indicated anyone from Smith’s team attended. And Smith provided no record showing any work by his team on the grant.
Smith, questioned by the Enterprise last week during a public meeting, acknowledged that the industrial park was on hold.
He explained his team didn’t pursue federal money because “we didn’t feel we’d be competitive.” He didn’t elaborate.
“We are just focused on the reload facility and once we get that accomplished, once that is completed, we will move on to the industrial land,” said Smith.
Meantime, county taxpayers are left paying the interest on the $2 million borrowed by the county to buy the farmland. They also are paying the monthly fee to Smith’s company that covers work on the industrial park. Among other tasks, the contract requires Smith’s company to “work toward marketing, sale, rent, lease and development plan for county industrial lots.”
Smith does his primary work for the county under a contract with his company, Gregory Smith & Company. The county pays the company $9,000 each month to run the economic development department.
In June 2018, Smith approached county commissioners for more money. He pitched a deal that his company would take on the work of chasing down money for the country industrial park. He said his firm would also write the proposal to the state justifying the $26 million for the Treasure Valley Reload Center and other writing projects.
He asked for and got another $6,000 each month for the work. He said then that would allow him to hire a new employee in a position that would last just one year.
The 2018 contract listed what Smith’s company “shall” do for the money. That included “compile information, prepare and make application” to the federal government.
Despite the extra help, Smith’s team took two years to prepare the ill-fated application. The county application said $15 million was needed for the industrial park, but virtually every description of the project provided to federal authorities was for the reload center – which was already funded.
The county commissioners last year renewed the extra contract for a third year. Smith’s company was to “apply 2nd time” for the federal grant “if necessary” and then “administer” the grant if it came in.
Commissioners learned later in the year that the first try at the federal grant had been denied.
Last June, they gave Smith yet another year on the contract even though there had been no second application as required.
And they relieved Smith’s company of that unfinished business.
Now, the contract provides that the company only has to “assist county or grant writer” with another run at federal money. The total monthly payment remained at $6,000.
Smith last week dismissed the notion his company had been paid to seek the federal money.
“I don’t think my contract spells that out. I think there is an assumption,” he said.
Malheur County itself doesn’t have the money to turn the bare land into a site for factories.
County commissioners took the county into debt in 2019 just to get the ground. They borrowed $2 million from the state to be repaid with interest over 25 years. Taxpayers so far have had to put up roughly $50,000 in interest payments per year.
When the county bought the land, Smith and county commissioners stayed mum on where money would come from to develop the industrial park.
The answer became clear in 2020 – they hoped the federal government would write that $15 million check.
The application that Smith’s team crafted had a sense of urgency.
“It will be imperative to provide full water and sewer service to the site to accommodate additional site development and to provide needed fire flow capabilities,” the application said.
But Smith’s team made one significant error. It asked for $5 million for water and sewer lines. The federal grant, though, can’t be used for such purposes.
That meant even if the grant had been approved, the county would be millions short.
Last January, Smith took responsibility for the federal rejection at a meeting in an appearance before the county commissioners.
“The criticism that key elements were missed, I think is fair,” Smith said. “We’ve learned from it and we will do better.”
MALHEUR COUNTY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PRESS RELEASE:
MALHEUR COUNTY- Ore. - In addition to continuous efforts by the Malheur County Development Corporation (MCDC) toward the development of the Treasure Valley Reload Center, heavy focus has also been given to the ongoing development of the Treasure Valley Industrial Park.
The City of Nyssa has been allocated $3 million dollars by the State Legislature in HB 5006 for the purpose of extending the water line from Nyssa to the park in collaboration with the County and MCDC. HECO Engineers and Anderson Perry have begun the engineering and design of the water line.
Once completed not only will the reload project benefit, but industrial park tenants, as well. There continues to be strong interest from companies who may potentially locate in the park. It is our desire to provide ongoing timely and accurate information on this vital economic development project.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM - Available for $5 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy, and an unwavering devotion to fairness. Get the kind of news you’ve been looking for - day in and day out from the Enterprise.