Onion reload facility on track, backers say

Onions are sorted at a facility near Nyssa, Ore. in September. A major rail reload facility has advanced another step toward construction.

The Treasure Valley Reload Center is ready to receive state funding and advance to construction, Oregon transportation officials and a state-retained consultant say in separate reports.

The Oregon Transportation Commission at its Jan. 21 meeting will consider releasing state funds to TVRC and an intermodal terminal planned near Millersburg.

Malheur County officials and representatives of the region’s major onion industry have been working on TVRC for more than three years. The facility planned north of Nyssa would transfer commodities from trucks to railcars.

The Oregon Legislature in 2017 approved $26 million conditioned on the local group meeting progress milestones.

Malheur County Economic Development Director Greg Smith told Capital Press that if the commission votes to release construction funding, the local group will update its contract with the state regarding timelines and budget and immediately issue bid requests. He would not say when construction could start.

Pennsylvania-based The Tioga Group, which provides freight-transportation consulting, found that “based on all information reviewed to date, commercial success of the Treasure Valley Reload Center and associated transportation service network is likely.”

The comments were in a Jan. 13 memo to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Railroad operator Union Pacific “has supported design and development of the Reload Center, as has AmeriCold, an experienced refrigerated warehouse and trans-load terminal operator," Tioga wrote. "As a result, and based on plans reviewed to date, Tioga is convinced that the Treasure Valley Reload Center can be designed and operated efficiently.”

A Jan. 12 ODOT staff report recommends the commission grant authorization of construction funding for Nyssa and Millersburg facilities.

Developments in favor of the Nyssa project, staff wrote, include that design of the facility and supporting infrastructure are essentially complete, that Union Pacific has been active in planning and has approved design of rail elements, and that AmeriCold Logistics — which the local group identified as operator — “is a significant addition to their team.”

The commission in 2019 directed TVRC developers to provide operating plans and cost information showing they could offer a viable, cost-effective service.

The letter from ODOT staff noted that was before the local group had AmeriCold on board as operator, and before Union Pacific’s 2020 closure of a competing service in Wallula, Wash. TVRC competition now amounts to “trucking destinations in the eastern United States, or each shipper negotiating rail service on their own with the UP.”

“Based upon the operational plan prepared by AmeriCold, the project sponsors have demonstrated that the TVRC will be able to provide a cost- and operationally competitive service,” the letter said. AmeriCold also would ship to several new destinations.

ODOT staff said AmeriCold’s plan is helped by a group of onion growers earlier forming a shipping consortium, which would provide a volume commitment to the operator and buying power to shippers.

Malheur Development Corp. Board Chairman Grant Kitamura, a principal in Baker & Murakami Produce Co. in Ontario, said TVRC is “an investment in the long-term future of the agricultural community and will help us be competitive in the global community.”

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