MILLERSBURG, Ore. — Building a truck-to-rail intermodal facility to serve Western Oregon’s farm exporters took five years of overcoming hurdles.
Now that construction of the Mid-Willamette Valley Intermodal Center is finally complete, proponents face their biggest test yet: putting it in operation.
The facility in Millersburg, Ore., is meant to allow containers of farm and forest products to switch from trucks to rail, thus avoiding congested highways on the way to ports in Seattle and Tacoma.
“Our region has a history of producing things that people in other parts of the world consume,” said Roger Nyquist, chair of the Linn County commissioners and a top project advocate.
Agricultural shippers will have a new transportation alternative to get their goods to Asian markets, reducing traffic and emissions while supporting local jobs, he said.
“It puts our natural resource industries in the best position possible,” Nyquist said. “We feel really good about what that will mean over time for our economy.”
Before project sponsors could develop the Millersburg facility, they had to convince the Oregon Transportation Commission the site was more worthy of grant funding than a rival proposal in Brooks, Ore.
Even after the Millersburg site was selected in 2019, the Oregon Transportation Commission required project sponsors to document their progress securing necessary contracts before it authorized construction funding the following year.
Further complications delayed the facility’s opening, as an underground diesel pipeline had to be reinforced to accommodate the site’s new transportation functions.
“The process was not as we drew it up in the playbook,” Nyquist said with a laugh.
While the road has been difficult, Nyquist said the facility now has the components needed for success, including a commitment from at least one ocean carrier to move containers through the facility.
Discussions with other ocean shipping lines are ongoing, but Nyquist said the first empty containers will become available to farm exporters at the facility within weeks.
Project sponsors expect the facility will achieve profitability within a year and reach its projected volume of 40,000 containers between its second and third years of operation.
Aside from agricultural exporters from the Willamette Valley, the facility will likely handle containers from the Deschutes, Rogue and Klamath basins, Nyquist said.
Trucking a container to the Puget Sound from those areas currently requires a day’s travel and another for the return trip, he said. For shippers using the intermodal facility, that truck time will be cut in half.
“When that trucker gets out of bed in the morning, he’ll be going to sleep in the same bed that night,” Nyquist said.
Over time, the facility hopes to work with its transportation partners to bring imports into balance with exports, reducing the need to move empty containers to the site, he said. “There’s still a lot of details to be worked out in that regard.”
While the facility has yet to prove its financial sustainability, there can be little doubt that Linn County is dedicated to getting it off the ground.
If the intermodal site isn’t able to attain profitability within a year as planned, the county has $500,000 available to mitigate the shortfall.
To get the facility built as envisioned, the county has also kicked in $12.5 million toward the total $35.5 million construction cost.
“The county’s continued contribution allowed us to do this thing right and not cut corners to make it work,” Nyquist said.
The 64-acre property is owned by the Albany-Millersburg Economic Development Corp., which with the county is closely involved, and operated by ITS Conglobal. The company operates 120 other intermodal sites in North and Central America and has a revenue-sharing contract to run the Millersburg facility.
“We’ve been impressed with them since day one,” Nyquist said. “They understand this business and are a great fit for this community.”
An adjacent county-owned property has been leased to a company that will produce biocarbon for industrial and agricultural uses, he said. Those lease revenues will be available to support the intermodal operation during cyclical downturns in the transportation business.
“We’re positioning this facility to be in as strong a financial position as possible over time,” Nyquist said.
Originally published in the Capital Press 11/19/22.