As construction crews add major upgrades to the Pendleton Grain Growers shipping facility at Alicel, local agriculture is in for a big boost.
MEN AT WORK: Workers from Swaggert Brothers Construction were busy last week on the new silos being built at the Pendleton Grain Growers Alicel shipping facility. The project, which also includes extension of the rail siding, got under way in January and is expected to be complete in July. The Observer/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
Crews have already begun work on two new silos that have the capacity for storing 755,000 bushels of grain. In addition, the rail spur at the facility will be extended a quarter-mile, making room for more cars.
Backers of the project say loading time will be cut in half, efficiency will be vastly improved and local grain producers will realize savings on their shipping costs.“This is a real boon for the farmers,” said Mike Sanford, interim executive director of Union County Economic Development Corp.
Last year, 1.7 million bushels of grain were shipped from Alicel. The old facility is not able store all the grain that comes in. Once the silos are full, grain is stored outside, on the ground.
In addition to more capacity, the new silos will allow storage for more than one type of seed. The overall advantage for grain growers is that grain can be stored until winter and shipped by rail when shipping rates are lower.
ConnectOregon funding is coordinated by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Tom Strandberg, spokesman of ODOT’s Region 5, said the Alicel project is one that meets the aims of the program.
“It improves our transportation system because we’ll have fewer trucks on the road and more grain shipped by rail,” he said.
Back in 2006, Union County government teamed with PGG and applied for funding from ConnectOregon I, the state’s $100 million program to improve air, rail, freight and public transit.
The project failed to make the final cut, but the next year, the Legislature voted another $100 million for ConnectOregon II.
UCEDC, a private, non-profit corporation that works to foster local economic development, partnered with PGG on the ConnectOregon II application.
The second time was the charm, as a $2.7 million grant was awarded. UCEDC borrowed another $850,000 from US Bank to make up the final cost of the project.
Sanford said UCEDC will lease the new silos to PGG and use the money to pay off the loan. Then, UCEDC will sell PGG the silos for $1.
“It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “It helps PGG and it helps Union County.”
Construction began in January. The project should be complete by the end of July. General contractor is Swaggert Brothers of Hermiston. La Grande engineer Rod McKee is the project representative.
Three Northeast Oregon projects were approved for ConnectOregon funding in the first round.
Successful applicants included the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority, which sought a $533,000 grant for replacement of excursion cars, and Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, which applied for $893,000 to help build an intermodal transportation facility in La Grande.
Sky Highway Inc. was awarded $85,000 to help establish an air charter service at the Union County Airport but did not proceed with the project and turned the money down.
Strandberg said ODOT is pleased the region hasn’t been overlooked.
“Eastern Oregon has done pretty well with ConnectOregon funds,” he said.