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Investigation delays local truck retrofit program

A state investigation into a Coburg organization has stalled a truck retrofit program in Medford designed to reduce pollution and increase gas mileage.

The Rogue Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization earlier this year had awarded a $314,055 grant to Cascade Sierra Solutions to create a center in the Medford area to help tractor-trailer operators make their rigs more fuel efficient and less polluting.

In February, Cascade Sierra became embroiled in a state Justice Department investigation because it facilitated tax credits for Mesilla Valley Transportation, a Texas company whose trucks benefited from the retrofit program, but only logged about 1 percent of the fleet's total mileage in this state.

Mesilla received $4.5 million for its truck fleet but little of the money was spent for jobs in Oregon.

Kate Medema, a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's Office, said the investigation into Mesilla and Cascade Sierra is continuing.

With a cloud over Cascade Sierra, local transportation officials put the brakes on the local trucking center.

Vicki Guarino of the Metropolitan Planning Organization said her agency will consider using the money on other local projects because it is uncertain how long the investigation will last.

The issue will come up at a 2 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 24, in the Jefferson Conference Room at the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, 155 N. 1st St., Central Point. The agency also will consider spending $100,000 of the truck center money to ease congestion in the area of East Pine Street, Interstate 5 and Peninger Road.

Guarino said her organization had expected the trucking center to be up and running by now.

"It would have been a good project for the region," she said. "There are a lot of health dangers associated with the emissions from trucks."

Sandor Lau, development director for Cascade Sierra, said his nonprofit organization is confident it will be cleared of any wrongdoing.

At the same time, he said his organization is blocked from going forward with projects such as the one in Medford.

"It makes us very sad that we are not being able to serve our clients in the way we want to make our trucks run cleaner," he said.

The work on Mesilla Valley trucks increased the rigs' average miles per gallon from about 5.8 to 8.2, Lau said.

The company received $4.5 million in state tax credits to upgrade its trucks, but the trucks logged only 1 percent of their mileage in Oregon.

Lau said any large trucking company will run big rigs in many states at a time.

"Only a small proportion of those miles are in any one of those states," he said.

Many of the trucks have license plates from Oregon, Lau said.

Cascade Sierra operates truck retrofit centers in Portland, Coburg, Seattle and Sacramento and soon will open one in Los Angeles.

Cascade Sierra assesses trucks brought into the center. The organization suggests such things as trailer skirts that can save 7 percent on fuel, filters that cut 80 percent of the particulates from the exhaust and an idle reduction system that uses one gallon a night through a generator rather than a gallon an hour running a 500-horsepower diesel motor. Lower-resistance tires can save 4 percent on fuel.

Lau said his company also helps truck owners obtain financing. Trailer skirts can cost about $1,500.

As the investigation continues, Guarino said her planning organization is now looking at securing another grant for the truck retrofit program in 2014.

She said if Cascade Sierra is cleared in the investigation, it is possible the organization still could receive the grant for the truck retrofit center.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.