082317-adh-nws-IP Mill Site-my (copy) (copy)

An aerial view shows the former International Paper site at Millersburg. The 188-acre property is being proposed for state funding as the site of an intermodal freight-handling facility to serve the mid-valley. A competing site is Lebanon is also seeking state funds.

Mark Ylen, Democrat-Herald file

Plans to place an intermodal freight-transfer facility on the site of the former International Paper mill in Millersburg got a boost Thursday: Oregon Department of Transportation officials said that the proposal on behalf of the Millersburg site was good enough to move forward and that backers now would be invited to submit a more detailed plan.

The announcement came at a meeting of the Oregon Transportation Commission, the board that oversees the department.

It's a big hurdle for the proposed project, and it will come with a share of the $1.25 million that was set aside for planning these facilities.

In the meantime, competing proposals from the mid-valley either have been deemed lacking or in need of additional clarification. For example, Department of Transportation staff members will seek additional information about a competing proposal from the city of Lebanon. The director of the department, Matthew Garrett, said he will decide by Feb. 1 whether to invite backers of the Lebanon project (and a related proposal from Brooks) to submit more detailed plans.

There's still plenty of time for this saga to play out, but Thursday's announcement would appear to give the inside track to the Millersburg proposal, for at least the time being.

Here's the background: House Bill 2017, the multibillion-dollar transportation package that passed the Oregon Legislature last year, includes a provision to create two of these multimodal facilities, which could be used in several ways: Freight could be brought in by truck or rail, stored in warehouses, then reloaded onto other trucks or railcars for shipment to its final destination.

The facility could also serve as a transfer point for intermodal shipping containers, which can switch seamlessly between truck, rail and ship transportation. In addition to offering better transportation options for mid-valley businesses, the hope is that such a facility will help reduce tractor-trailer traffic on Interstate 5.

In the case of the Millersburg site, its 188 acres likely would be sufficient to support an industrial park that could spring up around the freight-transfer facility. The industrial parcel has stood idle since 2009, when International Paper shut down its kraft paper plant and threw 270 area residents out of work. The local officials who continue to work on the project hope that, eventually, the transfer facility and related businesses that would spring up around it would generate hundreds of jobs. That seems like a pretty good bet to us.

Negotiations continue to buy the property from International Paper. The listed asking price for the property is $10 million.

The competing proposal from Lebanon involves a 47-acre site. Former Oregon Sen. Kevin Mannix, who has been promoting the Lebanon proposal and the other potential location in Brooks on behalf of the Oregon Shipping Group, has said that the Lebanon site would be cheaper to buy than the Millersburg property, and the savings could allow for the development of two mid-valley facilities. (That might not be a bad idea, but the language of House Bill 2017 suggests that the legislative intent is to develop just one facility in the mid-valley.)

And, to our eyes, the Millersburg location offers considerable advantages: For starters, the property is adjacent to Interstate 5. It also has a 60,000-square-foot warehouse. The Lebanon parcel is several miles away from the freeway.

It also helps the Millersburg proposal that it has support not just from all three Linn County commissioners but from government officials in Benton, Lane and Lincoln counties as well.

Thursday's announcement certainly isn't the end of this story; the next few years likely will bring an unexpected twist or two. But we've been excited for months about the possibilities offered by developing a freight-transfer facility at this location. And it would be terrific to see that valuable parcel of land providing jobs again for the entire mid-valley. (mm)

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