House passes Hermiston legislation

Walden’s bill would enable OSU to relocate agricultural research center in the future

By Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin / @andclev

Bill in Congress — Agriculture Research Extension and Advancement Act (H.R. 3366).

Sponsor: Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River

History: Approved by House Natural Resources Committee in March

What’s next: Bill to be considered by the Senate

Online: Read the bill at thomas.loc.gov/home/bills_res.html

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would allow Oregon State University to relocate its Hermiston Agriculture and Research Center without ceding ownership of the land that houses the 290-acre facility back to the federal government.

Introduced by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, the Agriculture Research Extension and Advancement Act passed by a voice vote, an indication that the legislation is not controversial. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

In 1954, the federal government gave Oregon more than 200 acres to establish an agricultural experiment station, and the state later conveyed the land to the university. However, a “reverter” clause in the original conveyance states that if any changes are made to the use or location of the facility, the land reverts to federal ownership.

Walden’s bill removes the reverter clause, and would allow OSU to sell the land in order to relocate the center outside the city limits. The land could then be developed to help accommodate the growing city.

“This center has fueled these innovations and helped growers in the region maximize use of precious water, fight off new pests and diseases, and achieve record-breaking yields. This common-sense legislation simply places the home of the research center back fully under (local) control,” Walden said Wednesday on the House floor.

When the research center was established in Umatilla County, Hermiston had only 4,000 people. Now the fastest growing population center in Eastern Oregon, Hermiston’s population has swelled to 16,475, and most of the research station now lies within the city limits.

The Columbia Basin grows everything from wheat, barley and onions to potatoes, asparagus and watermelons, with annual sales from Umatilla County topping $487 million, Walden said.

“Agriculture has always been the economic backbone of Umatilla County. However, growth of the industry would not have been maintained without significant innovation in the types of crops that are grown, and improvements in production techniques,” he said.

Following Wednesday’s vote, Philip Hamm, director of the OSU facility, said Walden’s bill would make the transition much easier when the facility needs to relocate outside the city limits.

In the not-so-distant future, “we will be surrounded by the city. There will be a time when we have to move,” Hamm said. Without removing the reverter clause, OSU would have to pay for a new facility — including buying the land and installing the needed buildings and infrastructure — without the benefit of the proceeds from selling the land it currently occupies, he said.

In prepared statements, OSU president Edward Ray and Hermiston Mayor David Drotzmann praised the bill.

“This will provide the flexibility needed to ensure that the station can continue to do research in support of the agricultural community, the needs of the city of Hermiston, the region and beyond, now and for generations to come,” Ray said.

“The reversionary interest that the federal government maintains over the Hermiston experiment station deprives our community and OSU of the flexibility it needs to maximize the value of the property and the research done there. As our city continues to rapidly expand around the station, the reversionary interest stands in the way of future development,” added Drotzmann.

— Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com