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Lots of decisions for S'side council to make on former feedlot

In 2004 the city of Sunnyside borrowed nearly $3 million to buy the Monson Ranches feedlot west of town. The feedlot was considered a public health threat and a public nuisance.

Since the city bought the property seven years ago it has set vacant. Some improvements have been made to the property, but for all intents and purposes, it remains approximately 150 acres of city owned weeds.

For those 150 acres of weeds, the city is paying $116,000 a year in interest payments on a bond that was sold to pay back an internal fund loan that state auditors said was a no-no. The city won't even begin paying on the principal until 2018 and should be finished by 2027, according to Tim Jensen, interim assistant finance director for the city of Sunnyside.

All told, the total cost of the land purchase will be approximately $4.2 million. The selling price was $2.5 million.

This doesn't include the cost of another bond the city sold to pay for improvements to the property.

The improvements include extending water and sewer services to the area and the drilling of two wells.

Since the property was bought, many promises have been made about what would be done with the property. Last night, those promises were still being talked about.

Dave McFadden, president and CEO of New Vision, sat down with the city council Monday evening to discuss options for the property.

Several options exist for the city. It can hold on to the property. It can sell it. It can solicit proposals or seek other creative solutions.

As far as visibility goes, the site is rated a 3.5 on a scale of 4. It is easily seen from I-82. Vehicular access is good, too. It ranks 3.5, as well, and is only about a mile from the interstate. Rail access rates a 1, with major work needing to be done to cross Yakima Valley Highway. Air service access is poor, as well, rating a 1. The area is at least 20 minutes away from a regional airport, according to McFadden.

Soils and drainage on the property is rated at 2.5, but a lot is unknown about the soil so far. Utilities are rated at 2.5, which is good McFadden said, but more work will be needed.

Out of a total score of 32 points, the property rates a 21, which according to McFadden, is in the middle of the pack versus what other properties rate.

Other issues to be concerned with include the site's closeness to a business that raises replacement Heifers for dairies. McFadden said that could turn some prospective buyers off.

Target industries for the area could be food processing plants, distribution centers and other industries. A housing development would also fit in nicely in the area.

Councilman Don Vlieger asked about leasing the property out for the time being to a farmer, noting alfalfa would be a good fit. However, council learned the soil is still a little too 'hot' from all the cow manure when it was a feedlot. It would take time and money to make the land suitable for this type of operation and farmers would more than likely look at other land where not as much work would be needed.

There is also a house on the property than can be rented out, but upgrades need to be done to make it feasible. Vlieger, who owns many rental properties, promised to take a look at the house and give an estimate on whether it could be rented out.

No decisions were made last night with what to do with the property and none are expected anytime soon. So until then, the city will continue to make interest payments until the land is paid for.

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