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City in line for for $619,020

Grant to fund railroad spur, improvements at Madras industrial park
For the third time in recent years, Madras is in line to become the recipient of a large grant to improve transportation in the county.
   The city's request for funding for a railroad spur at the industrial site, as well as rail crossing improvements at four locations was ranked 31st out of 38 proposals recommended for funding.
   The Oregon Transportation Commission, which is conducting a public hearing on the recommendations July 18 in Salem, will make a final decision on the project funding at its Aug. 18 meeting in Baker City.
   In its application, the city originally asked for $988,720 to rehabilitate 2,200 feet of rail; add a spur to connect the Wilbur-Ellis Co. to rail service; and upgrade four rail crossings.
   The review committee reduced the proposed grant amount to $619,020, which meant that the rehabilitation work had to be dropped from the proposal. Nevertheless, with matching funds of $200,000 from Jefferson County, and $47,180 from the city, the project will total $866,200.
   "Now we're going after an additional grant to get a portion of that rehabilitation work back in a grant," said Jeff Hurd, Madras Public Works Department director, who noted that the city is seeking an additional $100,000 through the Oregon Department of Transportation Industrial Rail Spur Fund.
   Despite the reduction, the large grant has local officials excited. "Right now we're in good position," said City Administrator Gus Burril. "Typically, the Oregon Transportation Commission does not make any changes (to the recommended list)."
   For the Wilbur-Ellis Co., the addition of a rail spur has been a goal since it opened the local office in 1995.
   "What it would do is create rail spur access, which we haven't had before," said John MacKenzie, of Redmond, branch manager at Wilbur-Ellis in Madras. "There's a rail spur next to our property, but we've never had access to that."
   That rail spur was added in 1997, but was used for lumber products, and never available to Wilbur-Ellis.
   "It would allow us to bring in bulk rail delivery of fertilizer for the first time -- that's a benefit to us and a benefit to growers," he said. "It will also reduce truck traffic."
   Wilbur-Ellis, which has a combined total of 22 full-time and eight seasonal employees at the Cherry Lane plant and the seed branch on U.S. Highway 97, across from the auction yard, now takes delivery of about 150 truckloads of fertilizer product a year, coming from as far away as Florida.
   "We usually blend it and sell it," said MacKenzie, noting that the fertilizer is then sold in six or seven counties in Central Oregon.
   "Since 1995, we've hoped to have rail spur access," said MacKenzie, who anticipates that the company would take delivery of about 50 rail cars of product each year -- reducing freight expense and truck traffic.
   "We're excited about being able to receive bulk fertilizer by rail for the first time," he said.
   "It sounds like we're positioned well and that's really encouraging," MacKenzie said.
   Hurd, who attended several reviews for the grant with Burril, is also optimistic about the grant and the positive effect it will have at the industrial site.
   "It will make them a lot more efficient," he said. "What it will do is take 50 railcars to supply what 150 trucks supplied during the year."
   Previously, in the ConnectOregon II and III programs, Madras received grants of $2.16 million for construction of the Butler Aircraft hangar at the Madras Municipal Airport, and $1.7 million for resurfacing of ramps, the addition of lights and updated technology at the airport.