With a collapsed – either full or partial – Treasure Valley building count now at more than 175, area officials are working to get resources and assistance to the people hardest hit by recent snow and ice damage, but the region does not qualify for a federal Disaster Declaration. Yet.
On Jan. 25 the office of Representative Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario) released a list of resources for storm victims, noting that while Oregon Gov. Kate Brown had declared a State of Emergency for the entire state, “So far, Oregon has not qualified for a federal Disaster Declaration. The Governor cannot request such a declaration until all State, City, and County resources have been exhausted.” Bentz said his office is working with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management in an effort to compile the facts and data necessary for such a declaration.”
While officials work behind the scenes, a running Google docs spreadsheet shows the hit taken by the Treasure Valley as a whole and by the onion community as one of its primary industries. Dozens of storage facilities and some packing sheds have been put out of commission, and losses of product have hit millions of pounds. Loss of production capabilities has slowed shipments out of the area as well.
A recent update to onion structure damages includes Hart Farms, which provides bulk storage for Sage Farms onions on the Oregon slope; Dickinson Frozen Foods bulk onions in Vale, OR, at the Ore-Ida storage, with seven million pounds reported lost; a second Dickinson building in Fruitland, ID; Treasure Valley Farms large bulk storage, with loss not confirmed but estimates as high as 10 million pounds; and a storage at Navarette Farms in Ontario.
Kay Riley, general manager at Snake River Produce in Nyssa, OR, said after his company’s packed product facility collapsed on Thursday, Jan. 19, the company’s packing line was down the next day. Packing resumed on Jan. 23.
“The weather has us so handicapped,” Riley said. “There are tremendous issues in bringing raw product to the packing facility and in moving bins.” Snake had another two storage facilities go down on Jan. 21, and Tiffany Cruickshank said some 21,000 pounds of bagged onions were lost at that time.
“And we are having a hard time finding people to work right now because they’re getting anywhere from $25 to $50 an hour to shovel snow.”
Owyhee Produce, also in Nyssa, has lost four buildings, three on-site and one outlying storage. General Manager Shay Meyers estimated a total of 22 million pounds of onions lost as of Jan. 20.
“The buildings can be replaced,” he said, adding, “This is kind of a gut check.”
On Jan. 25 Grant Kitamura, president of Murakami Produce in Ontario, OR, told OnionBusiness.com that “at this moment nobody is out of the woods.” While Murakami had not suffered structural damages, Kitamura said, “There has been a massive effort to remove the snow and ice from buildings, and it is still ongoing. What people need to realize is there is a huge cost to shippers trying to remove the snow and ice. Contractors are charging $85 an hour to handle the removal, and there have been hundreds of thousands of dollars spent so far just for that. Also, the buildup of snow and ice has caused shippers to be delayed in moving onions from storages, and this has dramatically slowed down production.”
In Payette, ID, Dan Phillips at Central Produce Distributors said, “The only way to describe what has happened here is that the are is a total disaster. I realize I am a competitor with the sheds that have lost so much, but we are a community and friends here, and we feel so badly for them. As for Central, we have our challenges. We have some stressed buildings but fortunately none critical to our operation or housing onions or vital equipment. So for now, we have instructed workers to just stay out while we focus on cleanup and shipping what we can.”
Phillips continued, “And the cleanup is beyond comprehension. Just yesterday, we had a contractor remove 40 loads of snow from our lot so we can negotiate our operations better. Meanwhile we have a rail car that needs to be cleaned out and no resources do it. What people need to understand is that this area is an absolute disaster. It’s just as if a set of Midwest tornados blew through here, tearing up everything in their path. And because everyone needs the help in this small little community of ours, getting that help is difficult and very high priced.”
The price, he said, is inestimable. “We don’t even have a handle on the cost. It’s not like you can go out and get bids. We need the help, and we need it now. We are just gathering receipts and will have to figure it all out later, but the cost is going to be huge — for us and everyone in the Valley. There is no way things are going to get back to normal for the rest of the season, I can tell you that for sure.”
In a show of solidarity, the National Onion Association reached out on Jan. 25 with the following message: “Our heartfelt thoughts extend to the families and businesses with damage to buildings incurred by the unprecedented snow accumulation across the Treasure Valley. Mere words seem so small in the midst of situations like yours where business as usual is disrupted and equipment, buildings, supplies, and product is lost. We hope our support will give you courage and strength in the weeks and months ahead to persevere. Keeping you in our thoughts,
The Officers and Staff Members of the NOA”
Below is a partial list of resources from Rep. Bentz’s office, including information on Farm Storage Facility Loans
“A producer may obtain a low-interest loan. This could apply to roof collapses of storage facilities but the facility must be producer owned. This means the farmer who grew the crop must also be storing the crop. Loan does not apply if a farmer is storing crops of someone else. A producer may borrow up to $500,000 per loan, with a minimum down payment of 15 percent. Loan terms are up to 12 years, depending on the amount of the loan. Producers must demonstrate storage needs based on three years of production history. FSA also provides a microloan option that, while available to all eligible farmers and ranchers, also should be of particular interest to new or small producers where there is a need for financing options for loans up to $50,000 at a lower down payment with reduced documentation. The interest rate changes every month but averages at 2 to 3 percent/ More information is available at https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Assets/USDA-FSA-Public/usdafiles/FactSheets/2016/2016_farm_storage_facility_loans.pdf
Other links from Bentz:
• Emergency Reverse 9-1-1 Notifications
• Baker County “Emergency Public Notification System (Reverse 9-1-1)” http://www.bakercity.com/2216/Disaster-Preparedness
• Grant County Emergency alert system sign-up – http://public.alertsense.com/SignUp/public.aspx?regionID=1170
• Malheur County Emergency alerts sign-up – http://public.alertsense.com/SignUp/?regionid=1021
• Volunteer Snow Removal Crews
• Pine Valley/Halfway Snow Team-Volunteers (fill out form for assistance) https://docs.google.com/forms/d/13mMTxqWt9Um_1mLfUteJgJC3jzxqf7hqFGBA0auzH10/viewform?edit_requested=true
• Helping those in need with snow removal from roofs, driveways, carports, and awnings. Call Huntington City Hall at 541-869-2202 to provide your name and address.
• Christian Disaster Relief Crew-Volunteers
• Assisting senior and disabled with snow removal from roofs in Malheur County and on the Idaho side. (Donations Accepted) Contact: Shaylan Unruh at 541-709-7606 or Gaylin Jantz at 541-216-0536.
• Baker County Juvenile Dept.-Youth Volunteers
• Youth juvenile dept. community service crews volunteering with on-ground snow removal. (Donations Accepted). Contact: Ray Day, Youth Accountability Officer at 541-523-8215
• Snow Removal Kits
• Baker County Library has a couple of “avalanche-type” snow roof removal kits available for public checkout for 24 hours. Borrowers must have a library card. $10 late fee for late returns. To get on the waiting list, call 541-523-6419.
Check out how OnionBusiness.com has been covering the storms: