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

An aerial view of 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

Questions still surround the development of a new intermodal freight-handling facility to serve the mid-Willamette Valley — and a bit of competition continues to brew about where the facility should be located.

The big transportation bill passed by this year's Legislature included money to set up these facilities throughout the state, including $25 million or so for a location in the mid-valley.

These intermodal hubs are places where freight could be brought in by truck or rail, stored in warehouses and then reloaded onto other trucks or trailers for shipment to its final destination. It also could serve as a transfer point for intermodal shipping containers, which can switch seamlessly between truck, rail and ship transportation.

The idea is that such a facility in the mid-valley could reduce air pollution and traffic congestion by taking semis off Interstate 5 in favor of rail transportation. It also could cut shipping costs by making it more efficient to transport goods from the mid-valley to ports along the West Coast. Considering the shipping headaches that mid-valley farmers and others have experienced in the past few years, that's potentially a big deal.

The site eventually could expand, with the inclusion of a cold storage facility and an industrial park. All of that could help provide additional jobs. No wonder that county officials and state legislators have been working on the hub proposal for years now.

So far, much of the attention as to where to locate the facility has focused on the former International Paper property in Millersburg, a 188-acre parcel that has stood idle since 2009, when International Paper shut down its kraft paper plant and threw 270 area residents out of work.

But Lebanon officials are touting an alternative location, a 47-acre site in that city. The Oregon Transportation Commission has the final say on how the state funds will be allocated. 

This week, the Millersburg site got a little boost when the Benton County Board of Commissioners voted to support it as the location of the hub. 

There's a reason why the commissioners backed the Millersburg site: With all due respect to Lebanon, it makes more sense to locate the hub in Millersburg. The International Paper site is adjacent to Interstate 5 and is served by two railroads, the Union Pacific and the Portland & Western. It also has a 60,000-square-foot warehouse.

The Lebanon parcel, by contrast, is several miles off the interstate and is served by one railroad, the Albany & Eastern.

The big-ticket item in the entire deal right now is the cost of the International Paper site; the listed asking price for the property is $10 million, and negotiations are underway between the company and the group that wants to place the hub in Millersburg.

If that deal falls through for whatever reason, it's conceivable that the Lebanon property could be back in play — but only as part of a deal in which the Lebanon hub is just one such facility in the mid-valley. That's part of the case being made by former state Sen. Kevin Mannix, who's been promoting the Lebanon property on behalf of the Oregon Shipping Group. Mannix argues that if you didn't have that $10 million bill, you might have enough money to develop two complementary hubs.

It's an interesting notion, but the bottom line is that you'd still want one of those hubs to be close to the interstate. And you already have a location under consideration in Millersburg that appears to be nearly ideal. That's the big hurdle facing the Lebanon proposal.

We're excited by the possibilities the intermodal hub notion offers to the mid-valley — and, frankly, part of the appeal is the prospect of getting people back to work on the site of the International Paper factory. That would be a nice sign that the mid-valley continues to bounce back from what was a nasty economic blow. (mm)

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