By Erik Olson, June 6, 2013, Longview Daily News
Train traffic to existing tenants at the Port of Longview is already increasing, and major improvements to rail are needed for growth, the port’s top official said Wednesday in Longview.
This year, the EGT grain terminal at the port expects to handle 650 mile-long unit trains — nearly two a day — and port officials are counting on a strong rail system to lure additional industrial tenants, CEO Geir Kalhagen said at Lower Columbia College.
“If we’re ill-prepared for the future, we’re going to pay the price dearly,” he said.
Kalhagen, who replaced Ken O’Hollaren as the port’s top executive last year, was the keynote speaker for the college’s noon lecture series. About 20 people were in the audience.
During his 45-minute talk, Kalhagen touched on a brief history of the port and discussed some of the challenges coming in the future. He said he’s a big supporter of a $200 million proposal to upgrade the State Route 432 railroad corridor, which includes a second bridge over the Cowlitz River, additional tracks and grade separations at busy intersections.
The project has been discussed for more than a decade but has gained a higher profile since Millennium Bulk Terminals proposed to build a coal terminal west of Longview that would handle eight trains daily, Kalhagen said, adding that he feels the rail project would benefit the entire industrial corridor.
“Right now, we’re frustrated because we feel our message is being hijacked. This is a regional transportation effort,” Kalhagen said.
Port officials are currently studying how best to develop their 275-acre Barlow Point property, currently used as farmland. Kalhagen said he hopes to attract new industrial tenants and build new berths, but he also thinks a portion of the shoreline could be set aside for recreation.
Kalhagen said he’s excited about the port’s new $3.9 million mobile harbor crane, which will be shipped from Europe this year. The crane will be the second of its kind on the Longview docks and allow the port to better compete for ships carrying heavier cargo, Kalhagen said.
“Now we’ve got both sneakers, and we can start running the race. Before, we were running with one shoe,” he said.