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Erik Havig of the Oregon Department of Transportation tells member of the Connect Oregon project review committee Friday afternoon about how their input in selecting a site for a $25 million intermodal facility will be compiled and then forwarded to the Oregon Transportation Committee for its Feb. 21 meeting. 

SALEM — Although members of the Connect Oregon project review committee have questions about its economic feasibility, a proposal to develop a $25 million intermodal reloading facility at the former International Paper site in Millersburg has received a conditional recommendation of approval.

That recommendation will be forwarded to the Oregon Transportation Commission.

Committee members spent three hours on Friday discussing prospective reload projects in Ontario, Millersburg and Brooks. The committee’s decision will be balanced with information gleaned about the projects by a private research company, staff reports and economic analysis by Business Oregon before a final decision is made. The final decision could come as early as Feb. 21.

Committee members quickly concurred that the Millersburg project should be moved forward, but also agreed that more economic information and detailed commitments from the Union Pacific Railroad and ocean carriers will ultimately inform a “go" or "no go” recommendation to the Transportation Commission.

All of the projects carry an economic risk, committee members said. The goal is to develop a project that allows a variety of products, both agricultural and industrial, to be transported by truck to either the Millersgburg or Brooks site and loaded onto railroad cars for shipment to ports in Portland and in Washington. 

However, the committee members are willing to infuse state funds into the Treasure Valley project as an economic stimulus for eastern Oregon. (The Ontario proposal is the only one from that region.) Committee members will expressly ask backers of the Ontario project to expand their vision to create more of a year-round business plan versus a more seasonal onion harvest and shipping plan.

The committee members added that both mid-valley proposed projects face more economic challenges than the eastern Oregon project.

Ultimately, committee members said the mid-valley project supporters developed extensive information packets and each had pluses and minuses. But one possible advantage for the Millersburg project is that it would provide greater access to southern Oregon shippers, who could deliver to the reload site and return to home base in eight hours, which meets legal driver requirements per day.

It also provides better access to the deep water Port of Coos Bay, they said.

The committee members also believe the Brooks site is too close to the Portland area to make a major difference in truck traffic.

All of the committee members said the goal of a mid-valley project is decreasing truck traffic and air pollution in the Portland area and helping businesses statewide affordably expand their reach.

Committee members also liked that the Millersburg site is already an industrial zone, although they were concerned that a $10 million purchase price and an estimated $11 million price tag to upgrade rail service, leaves little extra funding for any other site development needs.

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Roger Nyquist, chairman of the Linn County Board of Commissioners, called the committee’s decision “a big day for our project. I thought the committee did a great job and asked the hard questions. I was a bit concerned that we did not have the opportunity to answer their questions directly, but in the end, we are very happy with their recommendation to the Oregon Transportation Commission.”

Kevin Mannix, executive director of the Oregon Port of Willamette, the supporting group for the Brooks project, was not pleased with Friday’s meeting.

“This process was flawed,” he said. “We had no opportunity to respond.”

Mannix said that data released three days ago by a private research group used old data concerning the feasibility of hauling containers by truck versus reloading them onto rail cars. The old data suggests it isn't economically feasible if the haul is less than 400 miles, but Mannix said modern data suggests it can be feasible at just 200 miles.

Representatives of both projects should have had an opportunity to provide input or answer questions posed by the committee members, Mannix said.

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Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.