$3.5M grant to build road for Tribes, Port

August 2017 article, CUJ

Map of the proposed road.


UMATILLA – A $3.5 million grant will be used to construct a one-mile road that will provide access to an otherwise isolated chunk of tribal industrial land along the Columbia River near the Port of Umatilla.

The paved road will cut east from Beach Access Road and then cross between Two Rivers Corrections Institute and Port of Umatilla land (see map).

Although there was some question early on where the money would go, it ended up as a grant to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Bill Tovey, Director of the CTUIR Department of Economic and Community Development, said it is “probably the most complex deal I’ve ever worked on.”

Not only did the project involve more than a dozen state, federal and local agencies, it even required an amendment to a 2013 law by the Oregon State Legislature. The amended version will be signed by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown in August.

The development was thrown into a state of flux when engineers determined that $3.5 million wasn’t enough to pay for the full 1.5 miles of road and utilities.

Based on that 2013 legislation, the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, which is in charge of doling out grant money, took the position that the full 1.5-mile road must be built in order to receive lottery funds – unless that four-year-old law was amended to require construction of a shortened one-mile road.

The Port of Umatilla and Department of Corrections will get the most immediate benefit from the road, which is expected to stop at the edge of the Tribes’ 195-acre parcel.

The road project plans came about when State Rep. Greg Smith (R-Heppner) was looking for transportation projects to fund, according to Tovey.

Smith apparently talked with Kim Puzey, Port of Umatilla Director, about building the road. The Port did some initial engineering estimates before the money was channeled to the Tribes.

“The money fell into our lap,” said Ryan DeGrofft, Economic Planner at DECD. “‘Here’s some money, build a road.’ Would we like to go further than a mile? Yes, but we’re not complaining about free money.”

The road will open up opportunities for the Tribes to market sites for industrial businesses.

“We had no access before,” said Tovey. “It would be tough to market the land without a road.”

If there is any money left after the one-mile road and infrastructure are completed, a gravel extension into the Tribal lands could be built.

“If there’s money left, it may go 10 yards or a quarter mile,” said DeGrofft.

The City of Umatilla will maintain the road because of the potential economic benefits if and when industrial businesses locate at the Port of Umatilla or CTUIR property.

The only other access to the Wanapa industrial property would require an easement – and construction of a road - through a federal wildlife area, which Tovey said would be difficult at best.

A second grant of $60,000 from the state required $10,000 in matching funds from the Confederated Tribes for waste water planniung in the event one of the industrial businesses is a food processor or data center that needs to dispose of waste water.

But that $10,000 is the extent of the CTUIR investment in the $3.5 million project.

“It’s a windfall for the Tribes,” said Tovey. “Once the road is built we will have access to our heavy industrial property. It will cost the Tribes a minimal amount of money and without it the property would be sitting there idle.”

Wanapa is the site that former Tribal official Les Minthorn proposed for a natural-gas fired power plant about 15 years ago.

This story originally appeared in CUJ.