It's been floating through the Oregon Legislature for three sessions, but the legislative logjam broke Tuesday and a bill creating 80 percent of the funding for a higher education center in Hermiston moved on to the next stage.

The House bill containing the appropriation still must pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, however.

Nevertheless, John Turner, president of Blue Mountain Community College, beamed Tuesday as he explained how Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, seized an opportunity this year to bring funding to Eastern Oregon for unspecified projects. Among that funding is $8 million in lottery-backed bonds for the $10 million Hermiston Higher Education Center.

Turner said the college already has raised $1.4 million toward the project.

"We'll continue to raise funds to get the full $10 million," he said, adding that this funding would mean the center could proceed and open as scheduled in the summer of 2011.

The center's purpose is to provide complete college services, including laboratory sciences, specialized training and workforce development opportunities to the growing populations of western Umatilla County and to Morrow County. Eastern Oregon University is scheduled to be a tenant, offering baccalaureate degrees on site, Turner said.

"We're delighted at Eastern," said Tim Seydel, an EOU associated vice president. "This is very, very favorable. ... A lot of folks have put a lot of effort into this."

Seydel said Eastern hasn't provided any funding for construction, but its contributions will be in manpower.

"We've invested by adding some staff to our offices in Hermiston," he said. "We're working with them on it and delivering the higher education component."

Smith credited Turner and Kim Puzey, general manager of the Port of Umatilla, with persuading him to "put this project at the top of my list of legislative priorities."

Turner said Smith spoke with a number of people about where the funding would have the greatest impact.

"Education and workforce development through access to facilities such as the Hermiston Higher Education Center became the best choice," Turner said.

Puzey said he appreciated the tough decisions Smith and other House member made to approve funding for the Hermiston project.

"Public investment often leads to individual benefit," Puzey said. "From education and workforce development will come the return from economic recession."

The Higher Education Center project began in 2005 with strong support from the city of Hermiston. The city has offered BMCC 6-7 acres east of the Stafford Hansell Government Center and north of the existing Hermiston BMCC campus.

"This is just absolutely fantastic," said Ed Brookshier, Hermiston's city manager. "We have felt that is was a real cornerstone for continuing to grow economically in the years ahead and to be able to provide higher paying jobs for a better-trained work force."

Brookshier said the city has had an excellent partnership with BMCC since the project was announced four years ago.

"Greg Smith has certainly been a big help," he added. "He's always been an advocate for this project."

Turner also credited Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, and Sen. David Nelson, R-Pendleton, for their efforts to secure funding for the education center. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, R-Ore., and Congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore., also have been helpful, Turner said.

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