A $19.6 million expansion of rail facilities at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge moves forward on an 11-1 vote of the port’s board of commissioners.
“Everything went pretty good,” Jay Hardman, the port’s executive director, said after the vote Thursday night in Port Allen.
Participation in the project by Union Pacific Railroad and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture means less than half of those costs will be funded by the port.
“It was a positive decision by the board,” said Drew Tessier, Union Pacific’s public affairs director in Baton Rouge . “It’s the right project to do.”
Union Pacific agreed to shoulder all of the costs of new receiving tracks and two power switches up to a maximum of $7 million.
The board also approved construction of an adjacent chambering yard at a cost of $12.6 million, with a budgeted amount of $1 million from the rail giant.
However, Hardman and Greg Johnson, the port’s director of business development, later said discussions are continuing on the dollar amount of Union Pacific’s participation in the chambering yard project.
Both the receiving tracks and the chambering yard are needed to meet the growing needs of port tenants, port officials and state Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain have said several times over the past year.
Strain, who has offered $1 million from his budget to help complete the chambering yard, said at the board meeting: “I’m going to ask you to vote favorably on this.”
As he has in the past, area businessman Rawlston “Bubba” Phillips urged port commissioners not to permit daytime arrival of trains serving port tenants.
He said some of neighborhoods with one access point could be blocked from emergency health and safety services by long trains.
“We will deal with those issues,” Strain said.
Raymond Loup, who cast the port board’s lone vote against the project, said he couldn’t support it in the absence of a ban on daytime train arrivals.
Union Pacific’s Tessier said after the meeting the company has prepared for increased rail arrivals in Port Allen by coordinating with parish and city law enforcement and emergency services agencies.
“Their emergency dispatchers have a direct line to our dispatchers,” Tessier said.
Next month, Drax is scheduled to begin receiving two 45-car trains, loaded with wood pellets, each week. Those pellets, made from trees harvested in Louisiana and Mississippi, will be shipped as renewable fuel to markets in Europe or other areas.
Drax officials have said they would prefer to receive just one 80-car train per week — a length that cannot be handled by existing port tracks.
Dreyfus officials said earlier they received 4 million tons of soybeans and other agricultural commodities by barge last year, before shipping them to buyers. They want to begin receiving long trains loaded with agricultural products by September 2016.
In other action Thursday, port commissioners voted unanimously to lease 25,000 square feet of warehouse space to Baton Rouge Cargo Service Inc. for one year at a price of $75,000. Motorcycles will be housed in the space until a Baton Rouge Cargo customer directs their distribution to other locations.