A freight train rolls past the site of Treasure Valley Reload Center as work continues on a new parallel spur on April 29. (The Enterprise/LES ZAITZ)

VALE ­– The questions piled one on top of another as officials sought explanations for the troubles plaguing the Treasure Valley Reload Center.

Directors of Malheur County Development Corp. wanted to know whether a key contractor had been cut a special deal at public expense. They wanted to know why bids to get the lowest cost on some materials weren’t sought.

In a meeting Saturday, May 7, they focused their attention on Anderson Perry & Associates, the La Grande engineering firm managing construction of the Nyssa project.

But the directors posed no questions to the person paid at public expense for nearly five years to oversee the project – Greg Smith.

His company, Gregory Smith & Company, is identified as “project manager” under a contract with Malheur County, renewed each year since 2017 and facing another renewal in June. Smith’s firm is paid $6,000 a month.

According to the contract, Smith and his company have the duty to “prepare and adhere to budgets” for the construction. In response to recent public records request, Smith disclosed no project budget.

He is to "administer all procurements for goods, supplies, materials and professional services," which would include the contract with the project engineers. He is to “oversee construction design” and “oversee engineer design.”

The contract also requires that Smith and his company “prepare and adhere to deadlines.” The reload project, however, is behind schedule.

Under his management, the costs of the Treasure Valley Reload Center have soared dramatically, leaving officials millions of dollars short to finish the project. There are now questions about inadequate planning for extremely wet soil conditions that have delayed work and added millions to costs.

Greg Smith, Malheur County economic development director, speaks on April 12 to the board of the Malheur County Development Corp. (ANGIE SILLONIS/Special to the Enterprise)

Features are being stripped from the reload center to cut costs, but project leaders estimate they still need $5 million to finish.

In their public meetings, the directors of the development company have rarely questioned Smith about his actions. They have, for instance, not asked him why he told them earlier this year they were getting an extra $3 million from the Legislature when that proved not true.

Ultimately, the job of overseeing Smith’s performance rests with the Malheur County Court, but there is little record that Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce, Commissioner Don Hodge and Commissioner Ron Jacobs have themselves sought from Smith the kinds of answers that their development company directors are pursuing from project engineers.

Hodge didn’t respond to written questions about the court’s oversight of Smith. Responding to a public records request from the Enterprise, Hodge said he had no emails or other documents related to the reload from April 1 to recently, covering the period when it became public that the project was in deep financial trouble.

Joyce produced a handful of emails and addressed the matter in an interview. Jacobs released records showing he worked with a development company director on questions for the engineering firm. He also responded to written questions.

Joyce and Hodge have signed off on Smith’s contract each year since 2017, and Jacobs joined them last year after his election to office.

Joyce said in an interview last week that he supports the development company’s questions to the engineers and now wants similar information from Smith.

He said he briefly questioned Smith last week.

“I asked him how we’re going to fix it,” Joyce said. “Where’s the audit?”

He asked for other details about the project’s challenges.

“I didn’t get a complete answer,” Joyce said. “I’m waiting for that.”

He said Smith remarked of the project’s troubles, “It’s on me 100 percent.”

Smith didn’t respond to a request for comment. His practice is not to answer questions from or grant interviews to the Enterprise.

Jacobs has taken an active role in recent weeks as liaison between the county court and the project, according to public records and a statement from Jacobs.

He said that “on more than one occasion” he has met with Smith and with Brad Baird, president of Anderson Perry & Associates.” He said he had met or talked with directors of the development company board.

In response to a public records request, however, Jacobs provided no notes or other documents regarding such meetings and conversations.

Jacobs indicated he was satisfied with questions the development company directors are posing to the project engineers.

“I do not have additional or other questions to pose” to Smith, Jacobs wrote.

He did say, however, “I am still gathering information as to why Greg/Brad Baird did not seek new bids” when additional material was needed earlier this year for the reload center construction.

Jacobs said he also arranged for “county staff to periodically visit TVRC site for county supplemental information gathering.”

That job fell to Tom Edwards, Malheur County surveyor. He said in an interview that his task is to visit the reload center project from time to time and report his observations to the county court. He said he thought the construction work itself was being done well.

 PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

Engineering firm on rail project exceeds contract by $500,000, hikes its fees twice

Rail board zeroes in on project engineers with tough questions over costs, bidding process

Reload center stripped down but millions still needed to finish, officials report

DA orders Malheur County to release records about reload project cost overruns

Rail board cites needs vs 'wants' as costs escalate for Nyssa onion shipping center

Experts mum about need for costly extra Nyssa rail spur

Trucks damaging county roads on way to Nyssa reload project

Nyssa project can't tap state program cited as one source for emergency $9.8 million

Construction on Nyssa reload center could stop unless nearly $10 million added, officials say 

SUPPORT THIS LOCAL JOURNALISM - Available for $5 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism.