Linn County’s commissioners may sweeten the pot for the proposed intermodal reloading facility at Millersburg.
Although the project won initial approval from the Oregon Transportation Commission on Jan. 10, commission members expressed concerns about its economic viability. A final decision as to whether the state will provide $25 million toward the project is expected to be made Feb. 21.
The committee members were concerned enough about the Millersburg site’s economic projections that they included a “go or no-go” clause. If the Linn Economic Development Group — which submitted the application and would oversee the reload site’s operation — could not provide data suggesting economic stability, they said, the project would not be approved.
Tuesday morning, board chairman Roger Nyquist suggested that the county dedicate up to $250,000 per year from its share of economic development funds generated by the state Lottery, to “backfill” any potential losses the reload facility might have for up to 10 years.
Nyquist emphasized that he doesn’t believe the facility will run in the red, especially since only 40 acres of the former International Paper site will be devoted to the project. He said there’s already considerable interest from private companies that want to lease other portions of the property.
“But the Oregon Department of Transportation can’t base its decision on that possibility,” he said. “I understand that.”
Nyquist said numerous variables make projecting the business model’s profitability difficult.
“What is the cost of diesel? Are there enough available truck drivers? What is the rail line going to charge to ship?” he said.
Nyquist said the county would need to craft its proposal to include possible adjustments based on any changes in lottery proceeds to the county.
Will Tucker — who sold real estate before becoming a commissioner — said the county needs more warehouse space and he believes private investors would jump at the chance to develop portions of the property.
Both Tucker and fellow commissioner John Lindsey agreed with Nyquist that Linn County has been and remains “all in on this project.”
“Business Oregon and the Oregon Transportation Commission staff will get to weigh in on this as well,” Nyquist said. “They don’t want to expend $25 million toward this project and five years later, (find) it shuttered.”
Nyquist said he wouldn’t want the state to spend tax dollars that way either.
The commissioners will consider his proposal in coming days and vote on it next Tuesday, or possibly sooner at an emergency meeting.
“This is something that needs to be done as soon as possible,” Nyquist said. “Staff is studying the proposal now. This is something they (the transportation commissioners) should have before them. It’s not something we should drop on them at the Feb. 21 meeting.”
The purpose of the intermodal facility is to move as much semitruck traffic off of Interstate 5 as possible — especially in the Portland area. Semitrucks would haul shipping containers to the transload site, where they would be moved by rail to reloading yards in Portland or Seattle or ports in Portland, Tacoma and Seattle.
The process would increase traffic safety while decreasing interstate wear and tear, metro-area traffic and air pollution, supporters say.
The two finalist projects were in Millersburg and Brooks. The selection committee chose the former site as its top contender primarily because of its southern proximity, which would allow easier access to southern Oregon companies, as well as the Port of Coos Bay.
The committee also was concerned that the Brooks site is too close to the Portland area to make reloading economically feasible or reduce traffic congestion adequately.
Committee members were also concerned with the economic viability of a similar project site in Ontario, but were willing to support it as economic stimulus for Eastern Oregon.
Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.