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Minot seeks state funds for intermodal

Submitted Photo A unit train carrying containers sits at the Minot intermodal site last October.

A Senate bill to create a $15 million intermodal transportation assistance program is important to the future of Minot’s shipping facility, according to bill supporters.

SB 2245 would provide grants for purchasing infrastructure assets, property and equipment.

John MacMartin, president of the Minot Area Chamber EDC, said about $10 million is needed for his organization to purchase intermodal assets held by financial institutions and expand the intermodal site infrastructure into BNSF Railway’s Gavin Yard. Due to lack of track to support a unit train on a single rail, the intermodal service is operating with provisional BNSF approval. To grant longer term approval, BNSF is requiring an expansion of the existing infrastructure to be completed by August 2021.

The City of Minot has invested about $12 million over the past 15 years to establish the port. The city owns the land, but improvements that include a building and a track were financed by a previous operator, with whom the city ended its lease in 2018. First Western Bank holds assets on which it initiated foreclosure in 2017.

The state money is being eyed as a source of funding to gain possession of the range of assets. MacMartin said once the Chamber EDC owns the assets, it will work with the city to obtain the city’s properties.

“It’s basically trying to consolidate the ownership of the improvements,” MacMartin said.

In testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday, MacMartin indicated the trucking savings to shippers are estimated to be as high as $950 a container, depending on the export location. At one unit train a week, carrying 220 containers, that’s about a $10 million savings annually to North Dakota shippers.

AGT Foods in Minot gave support to the bill, stating the shipping savings over draying to Winnipeg, Manitoba, or Regina, Saskatchewan, allows the company to be more competitive in the market.

Blue Flint Ethanol, Underwood, has been shipping about 1,000 tons of dried distillers grains a week through the intermodal facility.

“The Minot Intermodal Facility has been an important access point for us to get on the BN and move into containers to markets that previously weren’t available to us. It’s been an important expansion of opportunity for our business, creating additional value for the feed products we produce,” CEO Jeff Zueger told the committee. “It gives us options as we look at rail access on the BN and the markets that they serve versus the conventional markets we have had access to on the Canadian Pacific.”

Greg Oberting, president of Rail Modal Group, which operates the Minot facility, noted the interest from shippers across the state in shipping from Minot.

He told the Senate committee that he and his company have invested $2 million into the Minot site.

“On a private-public partnership, we are contributing a significant amount of capital to get this program up and going. We’re confident that the State of North Dakota is going to support what we are doing here and shoulder what’s necessary to make sure that this operation continues,” Oberting said.

The original bill provides for $10 million in grants and $5 million in loan guarantees through the Bank of North Dakota. Sen. Karen Krebsbach, R-Minot, the bill’s prime sponsor, offered an amendment to make the entire $15 million available in grants. Other bill sponsors are Sens. Randy Burckhard and David Hogue, both R-Minot; Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown; and Reps. Jay Fisher and Scott Louser, both R-Minot.

The committee did not take action on the bill.

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