By Marissa Luck, October 17, 2014, The Daily News
The Port of Longview is planning a $10 million expansion of its railroad corridor, saying additional tracks would be needed by new employers interested in locating there.
Port officials are not revealing the names of potential industrial tenants. It is, however, saying it needs to expand its rail corridor from two tracks to five tracks — one through track and two side tracks for trains waiting to be loaded and unloaded.
The port hopes to break ground on the project in 2016 and to complete it in phases.
The two tracks now running into the port serve the EGT grain terminal and a few other tenants. The lines, which handle mile-long “unit” grain trains and other heavy freight, can sometimes become congested, said Norm Krehbiel, the port’s chief operating officer. (The port does not have statistics about the number of trains using the corridor, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which controls traffic to them, won’t disclose statistics for proprietary reasons.)
The port completed its existing rail corridor in 2005. It was a 10-year, $21 million effort that was key to attracting both the EGT grain terminal and the proposed Haven Energy propane and butane export facility. The corridor connects to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line that runs along Tennant Way and avoids all road crossings.
Port Commissioner Darold Dietz said the rail expansion is essential to the port’s continued growth. Rail congestion could prompt potential business clients to look elsewhere, he added.
The port needs to widen the rail corridor by 85 feet to make room for the additional tracks. It would have to purchase two chunks of land totaling 6,100 linear feet along the old Long-Bell log pond. Those parcels are owned by Pacific Fibre Products.
Port spokeswoman Amy Fischer said the port is negotiating with Pacific Fibre to buy the land. However, the port commissioners voted Tuesday to begin the eminent domain process to force a sale of the land should negotiations fail. Port officials stress that they took the step as a formality and that it isn’t a sign that negotiations have snagged. The Pacific Fibre land has not even been appraised.
Port CEO Geir-Eilif Kalhagen declined to discuss earlier this week how the project will be financed, saying that the port “would not discuss ongoing negotiations.” Wednesday, however, Krehbiel said in a prepared statement that financing has not been finalized but that the port would not use tax dollars from its property tax levy to pay for the project. Among the funding options, he said, are issuing revenue bonds and using port operating revenue and grants. Public/ private partnerships also are a possibility, he said.
This rail corridor expansion would not get the port any closer to servicing its Barlow Point property in West Longview, and would be completely separate from the county-led effort to improve rail service along the Tennant Way/ Industrial Way (State Route 432) rail corridor. However, that project would benefit the port through the construction of a second railroad bridge over the Cowlitz River. Krehbiel said the port will contribute financially to the SR 432 rail project.
“The SR 432 effort is still a major effort for that area, and we’re a team member of that effort. What we’re doing for the corridor is to support our existing customers as well as our future customers,” he said.