County hopes FedEx is first of many at interstate crossroads

<p>Two FedEx delivery trucks tower over Service Center Manager Tom Melder. The voluminous Hermiston facility, the Pacific Northwest hub for FedEx, processes 1 million pounds of freight each night as trucks unload and load at 128 docks.</p>

As plans move forward to create thousands of acres of industrial land where the Umatilla Chemical Depot once stood, the FedEx Freight Center on the other side of Interstate 82 stands as a sign of what’s to come.

The freight center, which opened in September 2011 and became fully operational in September 2012, is one of the first to take advantage of the only place in Eastern Oregon where two interstates — 82 and 84 — intersect.

The ease of interstate access makes Hermiston a prime location for FedEx, said spokeswoman Heather Hunter by email. ”It is also a strategic location within our network of centers across the country, and this hub has allowed us to improve our transit times in and out of the Pacific Northwest.”

The facility acts as a relay hub where trucks coming from around the Northwest exchange their loads before heading for their next stop. The facility is run by FedEx Freight, which specializes in “less-than-truckload” shipments for commercial customers. Packages for local customers also come through the center.

Each night, one million pounds of freight moves through the center, according to service center manager Tom Melder. The facility employees 100 people, though most are not full time, and 18 drivers carry loads out of the center each day.

Hunter said there are 120 doors where trucks can unload and reload, with space to add 36 more if FedEx decides to expand.

More industrial developments will likely join FedEx after 3,000 acres depot land on the other side of the interstate is rezoned.

Don Chance, project manager for the Local Reuse Authority, said the land is a prime location for developers.

“It’s a unique site with a lot of opportunities,” he said.

Chance said nothing is guaranteed, but the LRA has already heard from several interested parties. He feels optimistic that with the right marketing the authority won’t have trouble attracting businesses to the new industrial zone.

He said the land is a good candidate for transportation and shipping operations like the FedEx Freight center because it sits at the junction of two interstates, is located near a railroad and is close to two ports on the Columbia River.

Chance also described the site’s “really good energy capacity,” especially at the depot’s old incinerator site, which has its own relatively new substation for electricity and a high-capacity natural gas pipeline. The energy capacity, combined with a moderate desert climate and low probability of natural disasters, make the site an attractive one for a data center built by a major Internet company.

The downside to the property is a shortage of water capacity, which could rule out certain kinds of manufacturing plants.

“We’ve got several options but they’re all going to cost money,” Chance said of increasing the water supply to the industrial zone.

He said there will be some infrastructure improvements needed once developers start coming in, but the improvements will depend on the type of industry that sets up shop. The improvements could be paid for by a number of parties, but Chance said the money would most likely come from either the industrial users or the Port of Umatilla and Port of Morrow.

A report by a consultant also noted two other challenges for bringing large developments in: a shortage of housing options for workers and a shortage of skilled local labor. Only 15 percent of Umatilla County adults over age 25 and 11 percent of Morrow County adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to Oregon’s statewide rate of 29 percent.

Tamara Mabbott, Umatilla County’s planning director, said Umatilla County and Morrow County will each have more than 1,000 acres of new industrial land in their county, but both counties are working together with the Port of Umatilla, Port of Morrow and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to encourage development on both sides of the county line. For at least the first seven years all revenue collected from the land will go back into it.

She said the land will probably be available for industrial development about 18 months from now. Demolition of depot buildings is underway right now but the LRA has to complete a number of required studies and procedures before the land is turned over to them. The county commissions and the state also have to approve the zoning of the land.

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