ONTARIO, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown will travel to Ontario Aug. 28 to hold a ceremonial signing of the state’s $5.3 billion transportation bill, which provides funding for a major rail transload facility in Malheur County.
The bill provides $26 million for the transload facility, which onion industry leaders say could be a game-changer for farmers because it will allow onions and other commodities to be loaded directly onto rail cars, reducing transportation costs and possibly opening new markets.
The governor plans to meet with producers in Ontario before signing House Bill 2017.
This will be Brown’s second visit to Ontario this year. Before that, farmers can’t remember the last time a governor visited the area in an official capacity.
Local onion industry leaders are encouraging as many farmers as possible to show up for the Aug. 28 signing and thank Brown for her role in helping ensure inclusion of the funding for the transload facility in the transportation package.
“We’re telling people, be sure and thank her and express our gratitude,” said Grant Kitamura, general manager of Murakami Produce, an onion shipping company. “This facility will be a great help to the onion industry and other commodities.”
Dozens of onion storage and packing sheds collapsed under the weight of snow and ice this winter and Brown toured the region in February to see the damage first-hand.
Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, vice co-chairman of the committee that crafted the transportation package, said Brown is following up on what she said she would do when she visited the region in February: help the local economy recover from the damage.
The governor’s visit to the area is “extremely significant and I think it’s a reflection of how supportive she is of this investment in our area,” he said.
Bentz said the transload facility “is a great, big deal to this community and I think she understands that and wants to share in the hope this brings to this community.”
Bentz said ag industry leaders will be notified once specific times and places for Brown’s visit are set.
He said it’s also important for locals to thank the governor for her support of House Bill 2012, which created a special economic development region in Malheur County with the goal of helping farmers and other businesses compete on a more level playing field with their Idaho counterparts.
Nyssa farmer Paul Skeen, who helped escort Brown during her February visit, said her interest in and support for the area is refreshing because Eastern Oregon residents have long felt forgotten by the rest of the state.
“It’s symbolic about how she feels about us,” he said about the governor’s planned visit and ceremonial signing. “It’s been a long time since anybody even recognized we were part of the state.” He said it’s important for farmers and others to show up and thank Brown for her support.
“I plan on being there, shaking her hand and telling her, ‘Thank you,’” Skeen said.