By Kristi Pihl, March 18, 2014, Tri-City Herald
The Port of Walla Walla’s Burbank Industrial Park is poised to become a major wheat storage and shipping hub for southeastern Washington.
The port recently entered into a 25-year lease agreement with the Scoular Co. for a vacant grain storage and barge loading facility in Burbank.
The port signed a long-term lease earlier this year with Northwest Grain Growers for the former Cargill facility in the Burbank Industrial Park, said Jim Kuntz, the port’s executive director.
Scoular, based in the Midwest, will bring the former Cograin facility back into operation after 10 years of inactivity. The company has committed to more than $1 million to improve and upgrade grain storage, Kuntz said.
The leased property includes a 400,000-bushel metal grain tank, three concrete grain silos and a barge slip for grain loading.
The new lease will allow Scoular to truck in wheat grown in Southern Idaho, which will then be shipped on barges on the Snake and Columbia rivers to Portland for export, Kuntz said.
“It’s new jobs and it’s significant new investment,” he said.
Exactly how many new jobs will be added is uncertain, Kuntz said. But the larger economic impact will be from giving farmers in the greater Tri-City area another company to buy their grain.
Wheat is Washington’s second-most-valued commodity after apples and represented a value of $1.2 billion in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Benton County farmers harvested 93,000 acres of wheat last year, Franklin County 69,300 and Walla Walla County 195,900.
Todd McQueen, Scoular senior vice president, said in a statement that the 120-year-old company has been operating grain elevators in the Intermountain region of the U.S. for more than 25 years.
“With the lease of this facility, we can expand our service to area farmers and grain dealers, putting our trading know-how and operations expertise to work in Burbank,” McQueen said.
Scoular Co., with more than $6 billion in sales, ranked 54th on the Forbes list of America’s Largest Private Companies last year.
Scoular plans to open the Burbank facility in July before the start of this year’s grain harvest.
“We’ll be investing in repairs and upgrades to make sure we can operate safely and efficiently,” McQueen said.
The port will receive a base rent of $71,000 a year from Scoular, Kuntz said, as well as a percentage from the wheat throughput at the facility.
Scoular also will become the operator of the port’s Burbank high dock, which is near the barge slip Scoular is renting, Kuntz said.
The dock, built in 1983 by the port, has seen sporadic use ever since, Kuntz said. Port officials hope having Scoular as the operator will help increase its use and bring in more commodities.
As part of the agreement, the port and Scoular will evenly split revenues from business at the high dock, Kuntz said.