Blair Ag looks to add rail, port projects
April 19, 2022 | Pilot-Tribune & Enterprise (full link below)
Blair Ag has announced a multi-phase project to improve infrastructure and possibly river port service to the back of its property. Representatives of the commodity distributor recently presented a four-phase project to the Blair City Council, which Office Manager Ashley Shreeves said would allow Blair Ag the opportunity to accommodate both current and future growth and add additional jobs. "We've broken it into four pieces but really, the whole thing goes together for one main goal," Shreeves said.
The first phase would add a runaround track to the grounds. It would double the rail car space from 14 to 28 cars and allow the railroad to drop off cars, change directions and pick up empty cars as it leaves.
"Right now, if you can imagine, trying to rearrange cars is difficult for them, so if we want to expand at all into the backyard, the (Union Pacific) recommended this would really help them in being able to service us and prevent blockins or interruptions in service," she said. Shreeves added that they've consulted with engineering firms that have done similar projects and have received an estimate for the project as well.
The second is a rail yard behind its current plant that would add 40-75 railcar spaces in 3 or 4 spurs. It would also offer space for warehousing and transloading space, which would allow Blair Ag to bring in and offer additional products. The third phase would add two rail spurs, which would add 8 railcar spaces for unloading and storage by Blair Ag's bins.
The fourth, and most ambitious, Shreeves said, is the addition of a barge dock and port. She said this would allow Blair Ag to ship its products at a much cheaper cost. "The reason this is so important to us is because rising gas prices are at the forefront of everyone's minds right now," she said. "The same trip for our clay product costs about $400 a ton right now depending on fuel surcharges. We use rail right now because that brings that cost down to $140 a ton, but if we could use a barge, that price goes down to $40 a ton." It would allow for intermodal freight access for container barge to rail, container barge to truck and container to bulk bin.
Amy Prokop, managing partner, said that the dock and barge would not only benefit Blair Ag, but could be offered to businesses looking to ship products via water that couldn't before. "Looking at it, we've not found any other facilities in Nebraska or Iowa, on the Missouri River, that would handle or are talking about handling this type of thing (intermodal access)," she said. "When you consider
the outgoing stuff, if we can get some of that off of the highway, put it on a barge and send it south." Prokop said as the project progresses, Blair Ag hopes to reach out to companies to offer barge service.
"With business, you've got to diversify and how can we do diversity?" she said. "If this is an opportunity to diversify and it offers something to everybody else that's not available at the moment, well, let's look at it. That's, in a nutshell, why we thought we should do that."
Prokop said the barge portion of the project still has several moving pieces to put in place, but said recent developments with the NEW Coop at Blencoe, Iowa, and its addition of a port along the Missouri show that river transportation can be feasible. "With Blencoe putting their port in... we've had a dredging equipment up, for the first time in years, north of Omaha, to help keep the channel open," she said. "If we have more businesses along the river and the river is turned more back into a mode of commerce, then the Corps of Engineers would take notice and maintain it more in the original way that it was intended."
Blair Ag is currently seeking several economic and infrastructural grants on the state and federal level to help fund the projects. Company representatives approached the council to ask the city to serve as the grant applicant for the projects. The city would be reimbursed for costs associated with applications. Blair Ag would also be responsible for match funding outlined in the grants. The city unanimously approved the agreement at its April 12 meeting.
Learn more about Blair Ag here.