County inks deal with local engineering firm to conduct review of rail reload project

County inks deal with local engineering firm to conduct review of rail reload project

VALE – Malheur County has hired a local engineering firm to examine construction plans for remaining work on the Treasure Valley Reload Center and to determine whether the project can be completed on time.

The Malheur County Court Wednesday, April 12, approved a contract with Engineering Northwest LLC in Ontario to complete the examination. The county will pay the firm $50,000 for work to be done by May 10.

The deal between the county and the Ontario engineering firm is the second major move by the county in recent weeks regarding the rail reload center. County officials have stepped in an effort to get another $8.5 million in state funding from the Oregon Legislature.

In late March the county hired Zwygart John and Associates of Nampa to complete a new financial audit of the Malheur County Development Corp, the public company that oversees the rail project.

Both steps were triggered by a letter March 22 from state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane and state Sen. Lynn Findley. The two legislators wrote to county officials that it was “widely believed a third-party analysis is necessary” of the rail project.

The two legislators wanted to know if funds for the $40 million project had been appropriately spent and whether adequate controls are in place over public money going into the rail center.

The request by the legislators comes as the county seeks a fourth installment of state money to rescue the beleaguered project. The county has asked the Legislature to allot $8.5 million to complete the rail center.

Construction on the rail shipping center stalled as project leaders overspent the $25.6 million budgeted by the state. Cost overruns have plagued the work for a year and onion shipments once expected to start last September now won’t move out of Nyssa until late this year – if more state funding is obtained.

The county wants Engineering Northwest LLC to review a series of items related to construction of the rail reload center.

Under the contract, Engineering Northwest LLC will:

•Gather and research construction costs, bid information, engineer estimates, plans, budgets and other information for the reload center.

•Review the construction timeline set out by the state Transportation Department’s original agreement with the county and validate the revised timeline for the completion of the project.

•Determine how much construction can be completed with the additional $8.5 million and what pieces of the project could be limited or discarded.

•Report on the firm’s confidence the project can be finished.

Pat Woodcock, the owner of Engineering Northwest LLC, said the evaluation will be straightforward.

“It is identifying exactly what the county vision is of a complete project and comparing that with what exists out there today and filling in the costs in between,” said Woodcock.

Woodcock said his firm will need to “review the construction documents and that have been prepared.”

Malheur County Commissioner Ron Jacobs said discussions to hire Engineering Northwest LLC occurred earlier this month.

He said the county wants at least some type of feedback from company by April 30.

“I think he will be able to give us a rough estimate,” he said.

The reload center is designed so onion producers can truck their produce to the site north of Nyssa for loading onto rail cars for shipment to destinations in the Midwest and East.

The majority of the funding for the project comes from a $26 million outlay approved by the Oregon Legislature in 2017, and two $3 million special appropriations.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

A ‘pivot’ for Nyssa reload project: Court asking legislators for $8.5 million to finish the job

State’s fund for rail center nearly exhausted but millions in costs remain, records show

A rail spur cast as a $2 million surprise was required in reload center plans

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE – The Malheur Enterprise delivers quality local journalism – fair and accurate. You can read it any hour, any day with a digital subscription. Read it on your phone, your Tablet, your home computer. Click subscribe – $7.50 a month.