Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce said in an interview that the county had been forced to purchase more property needed for a Nyssa Railroad Shipping Center. He also said he was unaware that project managers had recently canceled construction of the main navigation building due to a lack of funding.
Railway sleepers are stored outside Nyssa on Tuesday April 12 for use on miles of railway line planned for the Treasure Valley Reloading Centre. A $2.7 million track remains optional, officials said. (The Company/THE ZAITZ)
VALE — The top Malheur County official said $26 million should be enough to complete the Treasure Valley Reload Center in Nyssa.
In 2017, lawmakers granted this sum to build the railroad dispatch center. Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce said in an interview last week that “I was never led to believe” that the initial state grant would not be enough to get the onions out of Nyssa.
He made the remark two days after local project managers announced at a press conference that they needed an additional $6 million to complete the recharging center.
Joyce said he had not been informed that those executives had also canceled plans for the central railway building at this time. Project officials announced the decision in early June.
As a county judge, Joyce holds a full-time position at the top of Malheur County’s administrative operations. This includes the county’s economic development department, whose director, Greg Smith, is the project manager for the Treasure Valley Reload Center.
Joyce said Smith didn’t tell her he intended to approach the Oregon Department of Transportation for up to $6 million more.
Last month, Joyce said he intended to pressure Smith to consider “resolving” the issues with the charging hub, but that didn’t happen.
“I just didn’t get the chance,” said Joyce, who was just reelected to a third term as county judge.
In the Thursday, June 16 interview, Joyce also distanced himself from the reloading project.
He said that “in many ways” his responsibility for the project ended when the county in 2017 appointed a separate board to manage the project. The Malheur County Court appointed administrators for Malheur County Development Corp., a public company created by the department to manage the expedition center project.
“I honestly believe they are more than capable of pushing the project forward to see it complete,” Joyce said.
Last week, the project managers issued a positive opinion on the charging center during a telephone press conference with journalists. Smith banned the Enterprise from the June 14 conference, but Ontario’s Argus Observer newspaper later published a lengthy report.
Grant Kitamura, an onion industry executive and chairman of the development company, told reporters the project was “very close” to reality. Kitamura said the project was not short of money, and Smith said the project was audited by CPAs.
The newspaper quoted a project engineer as saying that the recharging center was “going very, very well” and that two-thirds of the recharging center was complete.
Project officials said the center could still open in mid-winter.
Kitamura told reporters that the press conference was held due to negative reports in other media, apparently a reference to the Enterprise.
“There are headlines that say, ‘Hey, no more money! They’re out of money! But we’re not short of money. We’re still moving forward,'” Kitamura said. .
His remark apparently referred to the ongoing construction and the funding available to pay those costs. Project managers since April, however, have been warned that there is not enough money to complete the work. Key elements of the recharging center, including a rail spur, truck weighbridges and a road network, were abandoned, but that was not enough to keep the project on budget.
And the information shared during the press conference indicates that the project has encountered even more financial problems.
A month ago, the project engineer estimated that Malheur County would need an additional $4.8 million to complete the project, including construction of the Recharging Center building, a 60,000-foot complex squares where the trucks would unload the onions to transfer them to the wagons.
At the press conference, Smith said the figure was now $6 million, a figure contained in an “estimated expense” document released Friday by the Enterprise.
Smith told reporters the project would borrow for cash or go to the state for more public funding.
Katherine Benenati, deputy director of communications at the Department of Transportation, said via email that Smith had contacted the agency for a meeting but “we don’t have any formal proposals at this stage.”
“We’ve been pretty clear that we expect the project sponsors to complete the project as stated in the agreement and with the funding that has been allocated,” she said.
She noted that the Director of the Department of Transportation has the authority to grant additional funds for the Malheur County project, but “at this point, no additional funding commitments have been made.”
In May, Joyce asked lawmakers for $3 million to $10 million for the project. In last week’s interview, however, Joyce couldn’t easily explain why he wanted the money.
“I’m not sure I want to answer that question right now,” he said, adding that he didn’t know the fate of the request.
LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW:
In fact, local lawmakers then approached legislative leaders for $3 million for the reloading project, a request that was denied. Joyce said he wasn’t sure it was the same money he asked for, and all he knew about it was in a press release from State Senator Lynn Findley , R-Vale.
Joyce later in the interview said the money he requested would have restored a third rail spur to the Nyssa project. The project leaders had no public discussion about the restoration of this spur.
Joyce also addressed the county-owned Arcadia Industrial Park.
Malheur County purchased a 290-acre parcel of farmland north of Nyssa as the site for the recharging center. The plan was to divide 65 acres for the reloading center and then turn the rest into industrial land for new employers.
Joyce said the county didn’t want to buy excess land but had no choice.
“We were forced into it, in my opinion, by the way this program was put together,” Joyce said.
He said it was a requirement of the 2017 legislation that funded the Treasure Valley Reload Center. This legislation, House Bill 2017, does not appear to contain any provision requiring Malheur County to purchase surplus land.
Malheur County took nearly $1 million from its provident fund and borrowed an additional $2 million from the state to purchase the land. The county paid about $1 million more than the appraised value.
The county has since created its industrial park on paper and demarcated lots. Smith’s contract with the county was amended in 2017 to pay him for federal funds to install streets and utilities to make the industrial park viable. He did not obtain such funding.
Joyce, when asked about the county’s plans for the industrial park, replied, “Good question…I don’t even know what the options are.
Topical advice? Contact journalist Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.
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