ONTARIO, Ore. — Treasure Valley Reload Center could be operating within two years if work on the truck-to-rail shipping facility north of Nyssa, Ore., stays on track, Malheur County Economic Development Director Greg Smith told a meeting of onion growers Feb. 5.

He said Union Pacific Railroad recently instructed TVRC officials to complete 30 percent of the design for the rail portion of the facility, up from the earlier 10 percent.

This indicates Union Pacific will enter the reload center into its database of planned projects and continue working with the group. The parties are negotiating a potential rail service agreement.

The Oregon Transportation Commission last September accepted the reload center’s market-feasibility study, advancing the project for further review. Smith said that if the commission grants final approval — the panel is slated to meet Feb. 21 and March 21 — remaining state-pledged funding would be released.

The Oregon Legislature authorized a $26 million grant for the project, from lottery-backed bonds, as part of the state’s 2017 transportation funding package.

Up to 5 percent became available last year for developing a proposal when the Malheur Economic Development Corp. signed an initial contract with the Oregon Department of Transportation. The nonprofit corporation is spearheading the project and will oversee the planned industrial park it would anchor.

“Twenty-six-million (dollars) is a lot, and it takes time to go through the public process,” Smith told the group.

The planned reload center must meet a series of state-required milestones. Meanwhile, the roughly 400-acre site on the east side of Highway 201 must be rezoned from agricultural to industrial.

If the transportation commission grants final approval, TVRC officials would enter a contract with the state Transportation Department, start final design and engineering and circulate proposal requests from reload center operators, Smith said.

Groundbreaking must occur by next Jan. 1. Construction could take nine months to a year.

Onion growers have enthusiastically supported the project as an alternative to trucking their crop more than 200 miles to a Wallula, Wash., reload facility.

Smith said that while southeast Oregon-southwest Idaho is a high-volume producer of onions and the Oregon government’s initial financial commitment is large, the reload center must appeal to a larger geographic area and to growers of other crops.

“We will be open for all shippers,” he said.

Continued reinvestment will be needed—possibly from private and public sources, grants and matching funds, Smith said.

field reporter, SW Idaho and SE Oregon

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