North Dakota Port Services has big plans for Minot's intermodal facility over the next few years.
Construction that has begun on 4,000 feet of new track at the Port of North Dakota is just the first of a series of expansion projects being planned.
"The growth potential is way more than any of us had thought," said Greg Johnson, owner of North Dakota Port Services.
Jill Schramm/MDN • Crude oil is loaded onto a rail car at the Port of North Dakota.
The port's 72 employees are far more than the 40 employees that officials figured the port would have four years into its operation. A year from now, Johnson estimated, the port could have in the neighborhood of 200 to 250 employees. As the proposed expansion gets built out, that number will grow. Future employment is unknown but could be as high as 2,000 workers.
Plans call for increasing the port's capacity to handle more business and larger trains. The port would add about 3,000 acres to the north of its existing, 139-acre site on Minot's east side, extending as far north as 46th Avenue Northeast. The existing site is south of Ward County Road 12 and west of Burlington Northern Santa Fe's Gavin Yard and 55th Street East.
The expansion would occur on land that now is used for agriculture. An existing farmstead would remain for a period of time.
The completed project would have 45 miles of new track and generate 4,000 to 7,000 truck trips to the site daily on weekdays. The port would ship around seven unit trains a day.
The track currently under construction will almost double the loading capacity for oil and will double the intermodal capacity, Johnson said.
Additional construction of a series of new tracks for loading and unloading would exist for the use of shippers. Property around the tracks would be sold to companies that want to process, manufacture or warehouse products for shipping by rail. Johnson said initial interest has been strong by potential companies.
There would be two other oval tracks on the northern edge of the expanded port one for oil and diesel exports and the other for well fracturing sand, aggregate and cement imports.
Oil storage tanks, fracturing sand and ceramic proppant silos and crop storage bins could be built to help manage the flow of product and increase efficiency for shippers, Johnson said.
One goal is to eventually have a U.S. Customs inspection office located at the site.
"This will only come with volume," Johnson said.
He already is looking into establishing headquarters for a federal grain inspection service so crop sampling can be done on site, providing quicker turnaround time for results that shippers and buyers need.
Johnson sees additional growth potential for the port in handling non-ag products, such as equipment parts, furniture and building materials. Big box stores and other companies that bring in a lot of product might look to the port to have that product shipped directly into Minot rather than past Minot to larger centers, where items now are sorted and routed back again.
"It would be way more efficient. It would save maybe four days transit time alone," Johnson said.
Johnson also has had talks with freight companies that are seeing rapid business growth in western North Dakota to discuss ways the intermodal facility could enhance their efficiency.
BNSF Logistics, which markets the port to shippers, supports the expansion plans.
"There's a lot of potential in the market," said Mike Lancaster, vice president of international operations with BNSF Logistics. "I think there's a lot of opportunity. What Greg has done is outstanding. We are very much supportive."
Congressman Rick Berg, R-N.D., who visited the port Aug. 9, sees the port building on the strong aspects of the nation's economy agriculture and energy. Creating a transportation hub adds value to those industries and boosts the economy, he said.
Jerry Chavez, president of Minot Area Development Corp., said the type of project being proposed with the port's expansion is unique.
"You don't see a project like this outside of major metropolitan areas that are hubs for distribution. Just the size and scope of this project will be a big benefit to the state of North Dakota and will represent the largest investment in a rail distribution transportation hub in North Dakota," Chavez said.
Access to rail is a scarce commodity in the United States today, he said. As the port increases shipping, the opportunities to attract even more business grows further, he said.
MADC has been assisting North Dakota Port Services in assessing the needs of companies wanting to locate at the port. It also is working to integrate the port's plans with overall plans for the industrial park. There are issues such as traffic flow and track layout that must be properly engineered to best serve users, Chavez said.
The port expansion remains in the design stage, both in physical engineering and in determining how to service additional businesses, Johnson said. Among design considerations is technology to recycle drainage water for use in manufacturing.
Although the City of Minot was involved in establishing the port, now that it is a privately operated entity, there is no plan to go to the city or MAGIC Fund for financial assistance with the expansion, Johnson said.
No timetable exists for completing the different phases of the project, but Johnson expects it will take four or five years.
In a separate project, North Dakota Port Services is proposing a commercial and housing project north of 46th Avenue Northeast and west of 55th Street. The city approved annexation and rezoning for commercial and multi-family housing. The development would include a mix of housing that would serve both employees and other residents, Johnson said.