A bill that would give the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center greater flexibility to move when needed is cruising toward a full vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As the city of Hermiston continues to grow, Oregon State University might eventually consider relocating its local agricultural research station to accommodate further development.

The station, located on South First Street near Feedville Road, was already annexed into the city last year. But complicating matters is a federal reversionary interest in the 240-acre property, which was conveyed to the state of Oregon in 1954.

That means the federal government would reassume ownership of the land if it is used for anything other than agricultural research.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., recently introduced H.R. 3366 in Congress to drop the reversionary clause, which he described as a common-sense measure to boost economic opportunities in Eastern Oregon's largest city.

The bill, dubbed the Agriculture Research Extension and Advancement Act, received unanimous bipartisan support March 13 in the House Natural Resources Committee. A Congressional Budget Office report also determined the legislation would have no effect on the federal budget, clearing the way for a full vote on the House floor.

Walden spokesman Andrew Malcolm said the congressman looks forward to bringing the bill forward for a vote soon. A similar bill is also proposed in the Senate, co-sponsored by Oregon Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.

By removing the federal reversionary interest, OSU would have the authority to lease acres unsuited for its own experiments to generate other sources of revenue for the Hermiston agricultural station. It could also sell the land entirely and move outside of city limits to avoid conflicts with expanding residential neighborhoods, station director Phil Hamm said in a statement released by the university.

"While the station has no immediate plans to move in the near future, the removal of this reversionary clause will allow OSU to sell the property when development in Hermiston reaches the center's border," Hamm said. "It will allow the center to purchase new land, erect laboratories, and install irrigation infrastructure to continue supporting agriculture with new research based on information."

In October 2013, Hermiston City Council extended the urban growth boundary to include the station, where it will build a $1.25 million water main to the facility. The line will also bring the city's water system within 300 feet of the Cook Industrial Site, where officials hope to attract industries.

Hermiston Mayor David Drotzmann, City Manager Ed Brookshier and Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock have all expressed their support for H.R. 3366. The research center plays a vital role in the agricultural economy, they said.

OSU figures show the station supports nearly 500,000 acres of irrigated agriculture, and helped growers convert 30,000 acres to high-value crops in Umatilla and Morrow counties. That totals more than $50 million in economic returns.

Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4547.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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