Severe winter weather continues to grip a significant swath of the West, with Idaho-Eastern Oregon’s Treasure Valley seemingly at the epicenter.
A series of structure collapses from heavy snow and ice started rolling across the region on Sunday, Jan. 8, and by Thursday, Jan. 19, the count was in the dozens, affecting the onion industry to a large degree and also having an effect on general commerce, traffic, power and communication. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency across the state on Jan. 11 as storms, which had been pummeling the Treasure Valley, continued.
As of Jan. 20 snowfall from this six-week/two-month series of storms was measured in feet in Ontario, OR, where average annual snowfall is 11 inches. Local media reports on Jan. 18 showed 11 inches had fallen in a few hours that day alone, with more in the forecast.
Onion packingsheds and storages from Weiser, ID, located north of Ontario down a corridor several miles to the south have fallen under the weight of continuing snow. Earlier in the week of Jan. 16 Owyhee Produce in Nyssa, OR, lost three storage structures at its base location. On Jan. 19 Snake River Produce, also in Nyssa, lost its packed product facility. Champion Produce in the Parma area has lost multiple structures the previous week; Partners Produce in Payette, ID, has lost its packingline; Four Rivers Onion Packing in Weiser lost its line; storage facilities have collapsed in Ontario as well.
Other operations have not confirmed losses, although there are unofficial reports of additional collapses.
Much of the communication concerning damages has been posted on social media as onion shippers move quickly to shore up structures and keep workers out of harm’s way.
Owyhee Produce in Nyssa released the following on Jan. 19: “At this point we are beyond blessed to report that our entire crew is safe and sound and we've experience no injuries, though one employee was on a forklift when one building collapsed. We are so grateful for the safety of our team and are continuing to ensure that safety is our top priority while we deal with these conditions. We've had four buildings collapse at this point and are in the process of figuring out how we will be able to continue storing and packing onions.”
Shay Myers, general manager of Owyhee, also posted two videos to the company’s Facebook page chronicling the collapse of four storages. The video can be accessed at https://www.facebook.com/OwyheeProduce/.
Another social media post was made to Snake River Produce’s Facebook page, with this account on Jan. 19: “Today, approximately 4:30 p.m., the packed product storage at Snake River Produce collapsed. We are grateful there were no injuries. All packed inventory and some packing supplies were lost in the collapse and at this time, any orders on the books for Jan. 20-21 may not be filled. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. We will attempt to resume business on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. Please be patient as we work through this difficult situation.”
In addition to the damage to the structures, travel in the Treasure Valley has been disrupted several times, with Interstate 84 closed along the Columbia River Gorge and farther east on Jan. 19.
Adding to the concern is the continued build-up of ice in the Snake, Weiser and Payette rivers, all of which have either breached their banks or have posed threats.
With no let-up in the storms, damage assessments are difficult. Fortunately there have been no reports of injury.
Champion Produce in Parma wrote, “If you don't think it's a state of emergency for the onion industry in the Treasure Valley, think again. This is very serious! We have lost three storages ourselves. Keep the Treasure Valley in your thoughts and prayers.”