Grain Co-ops Building
by Matthew Weaver
Five grain co-ops in Eastern Washington are building a shuttle-loading facility to keep railroad rates competitive,
Construction could begin shortly, and the facility is expected to be operational in the fall of 2015.
SPOKANE -- A consortium of five cooperatives is building a new grain loading facility to keep rail rates competitive for area farmers.
Five grain cooperatives have formed the HighLine Grain LLC consortium in response to a request by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, said Kevin Whitehall, CEO of Central Washington Grain Growers in Waterville, Wash. and of HighLine Grain. Whitehall is also an industry representative for the Washington Grain Commission.
Other participating co-ops in the consortium include Almira Farmers Warehouse Company, Davenport Union Warehouse Company, Reardan Grain Growers Inc. and Odessa Union Warehouse Cooperative.
Grain from the co-ops will be trucked to the new facility where it will be loaded onto rail cars.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway requested the co-ops build the roughly $26.4 million facility, Whitehall said, so that they can maintain their current rate structure.
Whitehall said the co-ops now "co-load" 110-car trains.
Burlington Northern drops off 110-car trains near Cheney, Wash., which are picked up by a short-line railroad. The cars are distributed at various locations. Once loaded, they are returned to Cheney where the train is put back together for transit to export terminals in Portland.
BNSF wants to eliminate co-loads, and the co-ops are the last customers in its system still using co-loads, Whitehall said.
"They agreed to leave that 110-car rate with us as long as we agreed to build a new facility," Whitehall said.
Otherwise, the co-ops would be charged more expensive single-car rates.
Amy Casas, director of corporate communications for Burlington Northern, said the company does not comment on confidential negotiations, Casas said.
The facility will be capable of loading 80,000 bushels per hour, and have a storage capacity of roughly 2 million bushels, Whitehall said. He expects to load approximately 35, 110-car trains per year.
The facility is slated to be located at 9025 S. Craig Road, south of Airway Heights, Wash., and east of Medical Lake, Wash. The public comment period for the project in Spokane County ended Oct. 6.
County commissioner Al French did not anticipate problems.
"Everything I've seen about the project, it's a great asset and fits environmentally very well on to the West Plains," French said. "It should be a project that's well received by all. We're anxious to get the permit issued and anxious to get them under construction."
Whitehall said construction could begin shortly, although he did not have a set date. The facility is slated to be complete in the fall of 2015.
"The ability to have a regional facility like this, centrally located right on rail line and able to serve multiple counties is going to be a great asset, not only to the agricultural community but also for general business here in the county," French said.
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