A scheduled city council work session to discuss the future of the City of Prineville Railroad is expected to turn into a special council meeting to take up the 911/dispatch agreement the city has with the county.
>A report on the future operation of the city's rail line could possibly include a more informational look at the local economy than just the railroad's impact
Some time ago, a four-member subcommittee was appointed to look at the city's railroad and its operation and make recommendations. A report from that committee had been scheduled to be presented before the announcement that Ochoco Lumber Company was closing its doors. That report was delayed and has now been set for next Monday evening.
Mayor Steve Uffelman explained that Ochoco Lumber Company's John Shelk was and is slated to make the presentation, but it is not expected that Shelk will talk about the lumber company's future.
"John was invited as a member of the railroad committee to make a presentation on the long-term outlook from the lumber industry perspective, not necessarily from Ochoco Lumbers'. He may. That's an option he has but I'm not expecting that to happen."
There are a lot of things to take into consideration, Uffelman pointed out, when discussing the railroad's future. With the biggest customer, Ochoco Lumber Co., closing its doors it is questionable whether the rail line can continue operating. "We want to get as many 'what ifs' on the table as we can," the mayor said. "What hoops we have to jump through, what would be the cost of operating without Ochoco, what is legal and not legal for the railroad - we can't just shut it down, you know."
Uffelman said he was told it would take about $280,000 per year just to keep the railroad running. Without a steady income source, that money would have to come from the railroad's reserve fund.
"We'll have to look at the cost of different types of structuring the operation for at least 18 months," Uffelman said. "The federal railroad advisory commission has to decide what we can do and we have to give them time to act."
And then there are agreements the railroad has with other companies to consider. Not only the Crooked River Dinner Train and Crown Pacific, but Uffelman said there have been negotiations going on with other businesses that have to be considered. "The city has to see what kind of operating dollars are there and what changes can be taken to run with reduced volume," he said.
The question is, he continued, if the railroad goes into a mothball mode, what would it cost to reopen it. "If Ochoco Lumber shuts down 60 or 90 days and then reopens under a different name or nonunion - I don't think that will happen, but we have to be prepared. If we have six months to operate, that gives Ochoco Lumber time to close down, get some timber sales and reopen. We have to know what to expect."
The work session is slated to begin after a brief special meeting to take up the matter of the renewal of the agreement with the county over operation of the 911/dispatch center. The county court, during their Wednesday meeting, voted to approve renewing the agreement. Uffelman explained that the original five-year agreement had a sunset clause and needs to be voted on. "I don't expect to make any changes in that agreement," the Mayor said.
The special meeting with the work session to follow starts at 7 p.m. Monday, July 16, at city hall. The meetings are open to the public and all interested citizens are urged to attend.