The site of a rail reload center north of Nyssa remains empty except for bushes, rocks and dirt but a major shipping firm is already interested in buying the facility. (The Enterprise/Kezia Setyawan)

NYSSA – Before it’s even built, county officials are considering selling the Treasure Valley Reload Center to a billion-dollar company interested in managing the Nyssa rail center, according to interviews.

The taxpayer-funded center is intended to cut shipping costs for the area’s onion producers and open potentially new markets around the country.

Officials said they have few details on how such a deal would work, but said one condition would be that Malheur County producers would get cut-rate shipping deals.

County authorities have been negotiating with AmeriCold Logistics of Atlanta for more than a year. They have insisted the name of the company be kept confidential although they have repeatedly referred to the company in public documents describing the Nyssa project.

Greg Smith, director of the Malheur County Economic Development Department, said AmeriCold could buy a portion or all of the reload center.

He said the county is waiting for the company to propose how such a deal would be structured.

The county is using $26 million in public funds for the project. Construction is scheduled to start in January and be completed in mid-2022.

The rail center would go on 290 acres of county-owned property north of downtown Nyssa.

As designed, the Treasure Valley Reload Center would include a 60,000-square-foot warehouse and office with a rail spur connecting to the main Union Pacific Railroad. Onion producers in Oregon and Idaho will truck their onions to the facility to be loaded onto rail cars for shipment across the nation.

For more than four years lawmakers and county officials worked to make the project a reality and the county created a public company – the non-profit Malheur Economic Development Corp. – to manage it.

The county last year went into debt to buy land and started planning for a county-owned industrial park adjoining the reload facility.

Last week officials confirmed AmeriCold Logistics is interested in some sort of ownership of the facility.

The company proclaims itself the largest owner of temperature-controlled warehouses in the country.

It has continued acquiring warehouses, including paying $25 million in August for a Florida warehouse with 3.2 million cubic feet and 12,400 pallet positions – a measure of warehouse capacity. Overall, the Florida warehouse is 115,000 square feet – nearly double the size of the one planned in Nyssa.

Brad Baird, whose company – Anderson Perry & Associates – has been engineering the building for more than three years, said Monday he didn’t know the cubic feet or pallet positons for the Nyssa facility.

He later relayed that Smith considered such information to be “confidential.”

The details of the Nyssa proposal still need to be worked out, said Smith.

“None of that has been thoroughly defined yet,” said Smith.

Smith said at a recent meeting the county asked representatives of “the potential operator” to “take the first cut of putting a draft together,” on the proposal.

Erik Havig, manager of the state Transportation Department’s planning section, confirmed AmeriCold was interested in “some level of ownership of the facility after it is built.”

“At this time, this is only a conceptual question” that the state agency hasn’t seen in any detail.

Smith said the county wants to retain at least some ownership of the facility.

He said the rail and “civil infrastructure will remain with the development corporation and the county.”

“What we would do is figure out how to carve off enough real estate to get the equity they need without losing complete control,” said Smith.

Smith said that as part of the deal, Malheur County customers of the rail center could get “preferential rates and service.”

Any such savings would come on top of the nearly $2 million a year onion shippers are projected to save by using the public shipping center.

Smith said the state Transportation Department and the Oregon Department of Justice “like that concept because, one, it places building depreciation and liability on the private sector outside of the non-profit.”

“Two, it gives our folks discounted rates. Any business in Malheur County gets a discounted rate on service,” said Smith.

Grant Kitamura, president of the Malheur Economic Development Corp., said a sale deal is a decision for the county.

“They own it and they have the right to sell it,” said Kitamura.

Kitamura is managing partner of Baker & Murakami Produce Co., an onion packer in Ontario. 

He is also the organizer of Treasure Valley Onion Shippers LLC, a coalition of local onion producers that plan to use the rail facility.

He said onion producers and packers in the county aligned with the facility don’t care who owns it.

“We just want to make sure we get priority service,” said Kitamura

Malheur County Commissioner Larry Wilson said that until the county has a firm proposal, it can’t consider the merits of any deal.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at pat@malheurenterprise.com.

RELATED COVERAGE:

Feds scuttle funding needed for Malheur County's publicly-owned industrial park

YOU CAN HELP KEEP LOCAL NEWS FLOWING: Reader support allows the Enterprise to provide in-depth, accurate reporting that otherwise would not get done. Keeping the community well informed is essential. SUBSCRIBE - $5 a month, automatically. DONATE - to provide additional support.