Linn County's commissioners agreed Tuesday to put on a full-court press as a July 18 decision date nears for a proposed $25 million intermodal transportation project.
Last month, the Oregon Transportation Commission told backers of a potential site at the former International Paper Mill in Millersburg, as well as a competing project near Brooks and an eastern Oregon project near Nyssa, to provide their final data on their proposals no later than 5 p.m. Friday.
A decision is scheduled to be made at a July 18 meeting, which Commission Chair Tammy Baney had said would be “go or no-go situation.” But, she added, that if she had to have made a decision after last month’s meeting, it would have been no on all three projects.
On Tuesday, commissioners Roger Nyquist, Will Tucket and John Lindsey agreed to shift their commitment from providing up to $250,000 per year for 10 years to support operating costs, to providing up to $500,000 for five years to subsidize shippers using the facility should the economy take a downturn.
The money will come from economic development funds generated by the Oregon Lottery.
At stake is $25 million in Connect Oregon funding to develop an intermodal center that would reduce semitruck traffic on Interstate 5. Shipping containers would be hauled by truck to the site and reloaded onto rail cars.
Tranportation Commission board members had been told by the Tioga Group, a private transportation consulting group, that all of the projects were likely on shaky financial ground and might not be able to operate without subsidies.
Nyquist said Linn County’s submission is nearly complete and assured Lindsey and Tucker that they will be impressed when they receive copies later in the week.
He added that the Transportation Commission board members appear to be concerned about the bottom line based on shipping income alone.
He said they do not appear to put as much weight on the fact the Millersburg site will become an industrial park and should generate significant annual income in property leases, plus create as many as 500 jobs.
The 190-acre Millersburg site abuts 400 acres of industrial-zoned property owned by the city.
“In baseball terms, we’re in the 15th inning, we’re ahead by a couple runs and we don’t have any pitchers left,” Nyquist said. “It’s unlikely anyone will have to use this money, maybe the first year or two.”
Nyquist said the selection process has been long and drawn out.
“In a perfect world, this would have been decided before the first of the year,” he said.
Tucker said the project was “too important to not close on” and proposed making the funding process change. Lindsey expressed some reservations about how the process has taken place, but fully supports the Millersburg project and site.
The intermodal projects are part of a $5.3 billion transportation program approved by the Legislature in 2017.
At last month’s meeting, Transportation Commission board members said they wanted “real world” facts and figures upon which they could base their decision. Nyquist told them that shippers were hesitant to release proprietary figures because they are in competitive business situations.
Attorneys from the Department of Justice said proprietary financial information could be shared with the commission members without making it available to the general public at this time.
Submissions for the three projects will be reviewed by the Tioga Group and submitted to the Transportation Commission board members for their review before the July 18 meeting in Salem.