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An aerial view shows the 190-acre International Paper site at Millersburg. The Albany-Millersburg Economic Development Corporation has qualified to get planning funds from the Oregon Department of Transportation for a project to build a transmodal reloading facility to serve mid-valley manufacturing and agricultural companies. 

The Albany-Millersburg Economic Development Corp. has cleared its first major hurdle toward building a $25 million transmodal reloading facility at the former International Paper site.

At a meeting of the Oregon Transportation Commission on Thursday, AMEDC's application for what is officially called the Mid-Willamette Valley Intermodal Project was deemed complete and the project was qualified to possibly receive all or a portion of $1.25 million in planning funds, which is 5 percent of the $25 million in development funding available.

Officials from the Oregon Department of Transportation told commission members that they have questions about other proposals from Lebanon and Brooks-Hopmere — both prepared by the Oregon Shipping Group — and have asked those project leaders to provide more information before the Transportation Commission’s next meeting on Feb. 1.

Lebanon wants to develop a reloading operation on 47 acres on the northwest corner of town. Brooks wants to develop property owned by NORPAC and Antique Powerland.

One or both could still quality for planning phase funds.

An application from Northwest Container in Portland was eliminated from consideration in the first round of hearings, and Greenhill Multimodal near Eugene was eliminated in the second round of hearings.

“We cleared the bar. We met the requirements,” Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist said.

Nyquist said the Transportation Commission’s actions “prove we need to focus on the Millersburg project. We met the criteria to move forward and that’s another positive step in the process. I congratulate AMEDC, and we’re eager for the community to begin development of this project.”

Included in the $5.3 billion transportation package approved during the last legislative session was $25 million in Oregon Lottery funds for development of a reloading facility in the mid-valley. Tractor-trailer units could haul containers to the facility, where they would be reloaded onto trains for transport to other shipping sites in Portland, Tacoma and Seattle, and in California.

State Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, came up with the concept for the mid-valley project after participating in a state transportation meeting in eastern Oregon. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, had been supporting a similar concept there for some time.

That Eastern Oregon project — known as the Treasure Valley intermodal facility — is set to receive $26 million and will primarily move agricultural products.

In August the Linn County Board of Commissioners committed $275,000 as seed money for the Millersburg project. The application was actually presented by the Linn Economic Development Group, which is an AMEDC affiliate.

AMEDC also contracted with Gregory Smith & Co. to serve as project manager.

Olson said he is comfortable with Thursday’s decision.

“I feel confident that we are heading in the right direction and that the Millersburg project will get the $25 million earmarked for a mid-valley project, although the door has not been closed on the Brooks and Lebanon projects. Clearly the Transportation Commission wants more information about them,” Olson said.

International Paper closed in 2009 and the property — 132 acres at the main plant and 53 acres that housed a power co-generation plant — are for sale. AMEDC and Linn County are in negotiations with International Paper to purchase the property. The asking price for the property is $10 million.

ODOT spokeswoman Shelley Snow said the commission members have three areas of concern about the Brooks and Lebanon applicants.

Snow said the operational structure of applications from both Brooks and Lebanon appear identical. They were compiled in part by the Oregon Shipping Group. Former state legislator Kevin Mannix is an officer with the group and has been an adviser to both projects.

“The commissioners want to know the ultimate result. What is the one sponsor with one facility?” Snow said.

Snow noted that the Brooks application appears to include two possible locations. The commissioners want to clarify which location is to be considered.

Snow said there is also a statutory issue with the Lebanon application. The Albany & Eastern Railroad is included as a short-line operator in the Lebanon application.

“During the Oregon Connect Five process, a law was passed that if a railroad charges adjoining property owners for railroad crossing maintenance, those railroads could not be eligible for Connect Oregon funds,” Snow said. “The Albany & Eastern Railroad charges railroad crossing fees. The commissioners want to know how the applicant will address that issue.”

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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