Benefits of Connect Oregon multiply for the Port of Morrow

Morrow County Grain Growers
Before Connect Oregon, the Morrow County Grain Growers had just one railroad connection.

The Port of Morrow in Boardman now has four railroad tracks running through it instead of one. It also has an additional 500 acres available for rail users and others interested in industrial opportunities. Located on the Columbia River near Boardman, the port has received several Connect Oregon grants, including one in 2017, and its presence is a boon to the area.

But what’s even better? The port was able to use the CO funds to gain a federal grant, so the multimodal facility now has an additional $20 million going into upgrades over the next couple of years.

“We’re thrilled that we received the Connect Oregon funds,” said Economic Development Director Lisa Mittelsdorf, “and then on top of that, we were able to use them for the federal match requirement.”

The Connect Oregon portion of the port’s recent improvements is now complete, and Jake Crain, director of engineering, couldn’t be happier with the results.

“Once you get approval from the railroad, it’s all downhill from there,” he said of the project, which added approximately 25,000 feet of rail, seven turnouts, a public at-grade crossing and more.

“Before, we could only have one train in the yard at a time,” said Cain. “Now we can have up to four – storage for three while one is being loaded or unloaded.”

Advantages felt far and wide

These improvements offer all kinds of benefits for the local area as well as throughout the region. For example, it alleviates scheduling issues. Railroads usually can’t guarantee what time they are coming, so now that’s not as big of an issue because there’s room to store other trains.

“It really makes using unit trains more efficient – which is good for everyone,” said Cain. (A unit train is one that transports a single commodity, such as timber or oil, and these are common in the Columbia Gorge.)

Locally, farmers, exporters and others now have more choices for shipping. This is a key part of ODOT’s Strategic Action Plan – creating a modern transportation system that supports multimodal travel.

“This investment is allowing businesses to choose which mode of transportation – truck, river or train,” said Mittlesdorf. “For them to have the ability to choose in many cases allows them to control costs.”

The Port of Morrow is home to a wide variety of companies, from Lamb Weston’s French fry plant, Oregon Potato Company’s potato flake plant and Boardman Foods’ onion processing plant to Barenbrug’s seed cleaning and shipping and Tidewater Terminal’s public container and chip reload facility. One of the things the latest CO grant will do is make it attractive to more businesses like these.

“The port has been an economic leader in the region for job growth and business opportunities, as well as continued growth year after year – both for new businesses and those already here,” Mittlesdorf said. “New development like this will lead to more jobs.”

An investment that pays off

Grain growers after Connect Oregon
After the Connect Oregon investment Morrow County Grain Growers has access to four railroads.

The Port of Morrow has received several Connect Oregon grants (approved by the legislature and administered by ODOT) over the years, helping connect the busy region to the rest of the state and the country. In 2015, the port was awarded CO funds to help build the freezer warehouse and transload facility in the East Beach Industrial Park. The new 110,000 square feet of zero-degree cold storage facility filled up so fast, the port had to plan an expansion. Now, they have double that capacity.

“Connect Oregon has been a great program for the port. We’ve been able to invest in infrastructure, roads, multimodal facilities and our land,” Mittlesdorf said.

Both she and Cain said the Connect Oregon program has been a smooth process, allowing them to focus on delivering the best project.

“We’re very appreciative of all the investment the state has made,” said Mittlesdorf. “It is allowing us to market sites that have all the infrastructure, so someone can look at it and not have to visualize what it will look like, it’s all ready to go.”