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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow EFFORT TO SAVE RAILROAD NEARS END OF LINE

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EFFORT TO SAVE RAILROAD NEARS END OF LINE

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

It will take nothing short of a miracle to save the railroad between Elgin and Joseph.

With rail salvage scheduled to begin Jan. 8, Wallowa County commissioners are desperately searching for money to make a down payment on the line owned by Idaho Northern and Pacific Railroad.

Im not sure theres anything we can do, County Commissioner Mike Hayward said Thursday. Were continuing to talk to state and federal folks. I visited with Mark Simmons (speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives) yesterday. He supports the

projects.

Everything the county has tried seems to have fallen apart.

Lottery funds are tied up in a legal challenge that is expected to be heard by the Oregon Supreme Court. Federal funding legislation did not come to pass during the fall, and Congress adjourned until January.

The 2001 Oregon Legislature approved $2 million in lottery-backed bonds for a down payment on the railroad, but bond sales wont take place until after the court rules on the legality of the lottery, which could be some time this spring or later.

Hayward said the county might be able to borrow $2 million from the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department for earnest money until the bonds are sold. Additional money to complete the purchase would remain questionable without federal help.

The reality is that the railroad wants some real money, as opposed to promises. OECDD would have to loan us that money, which would have to be paid back, the commissioner said.

I dont want to paint a false picture that were right there that were going to make it happen. There are a lot of ifs, he said. Id rather people know that were having real problems with it. Thats the reality, and they need to know that.

Idaho Northern and Pacific, owned by Rio Grande Railroad of Fort Worth, Texas, bought the line from La Grande to Joseph from the Union Pacific Railroad in 1994. Idaho Northern still owns and operates the line from La Grande to Elgin, but it sold the tracks from Elgin to Joseph for salvage to Klamert Salvage Company of

Montana. Rail removal has been delayed by county action and court stays.

The stays have ended, and the U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruled earlier this month that salvage of the line could proceed.

Were continuing to explore the possibilities in terms of coming up with enough money to allow the railroad to get the salvage company to hold off, Hayward said.

Were not on solid ground, he said. The community is starting to understand that. Unfortunately, most of the phone calls are along the lines of you guys have got to do something. Really, it comes down to money.

Union County has offered to work with Wallowa County to find federal and state funds to help buy the railroad, but Union County Commissioner Steve McClure has said several times that the county will not dip into its general operating funds for any money.

Union Countys interest has been in acquiring the full line from La Grande to Joseph and using revenue from those

operations to help pay for

the railroad purchase and maintenance.

Earlier this year, the two counties paid a negotiator $5,000 to try to reach

a purchase agreement with

Rio Grande.

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