ONTARIO — When it comes to the Treasure Valley Reload Center, concerns from the community over a project with such a hefty price tag — nearly $30 million total — have come in over myriad issues.
County officials, as well as members of the Malheur County Development Board, want to set the record straight about a host of concerns.
One of those primary issues has been the time it is taking to get the project off the ground, which aims to ship product in and out by truck and rail.
“The public perception is that there is nothing going on,” said Malheur County Development Board member Kay Riley in a recent meeting with The Argus Observer.
Board member Corey Maag emphasized that the project is not at all “like building something private.”
Grant Kitamura, another board member who has experience with building in the private sector, says “the public sector has been an eye-opener for us.”
“It’s out of our wheel house,” he said. “However, it’s our charge to get the facility built.”
While the majority of funding — $26 million — was approved in 2017, there were many steps along the way that have taken time.
Officials hope the purchase of the property, however, will begin to help the project get on a fast track. The first of the phases is anticipated to start during post-harvest this year, with construction of the building projected to begin sometime in the spring of 2021.
The ebb and flow of the project has left county officials at the mercy of the state for final approval in many areas, and board members say that the recent passing of Scott Fairley, from Biz Oregon, may affect the project since he was an integral partner in the project.
“We’ve had all kinds of changes, and this is the worst one,” said Malheur County Commissioner Larry Wilson.
There have been a host of other hurdles, too, according to Kitamura. Some of those were in connection to Union Pacific cutbacks, which has caused several pauses in the work while local officials wait for the next in line to pick up the project.
There was also community concern over the siting location, but that decision was ultimately driven by parameters set but the Oregon Department of Transportation as well as Union Pacific.
Kitamura emphasized that the land is suitable, adding that engineers and Rail Pros all say the land is viable for tracks and buildings.
The size of the land purchase brought more concerns from community members. While ODOT will reimburse the county for a purchase of 65 acres, the Farmer property overall is 290 acres and was purchased at $10,000 per acre.
Riley says, however, that the proposal was the fairest. In addition, the Farmer family didn’t want to sell their property, it was never even listed. In order to make it equitable for everyone, county officials decided to purchase the entire parcel.
Furthermore, officials say the original appraisal of the property was as farm ground, not industrial. Once it is converted and appraised again the value is expected to go up to $20,000 to $25,000 per acre.
As for concerns over the loan that had to be obtained to purchase the property because property purchase was not included in the funding from the Legislature, officials say selling off and leasing parcels of the land should help in repaying the loan.