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Agriculture

Highline Grain terminal sprouts

Cheney Free Press of Cheney, Washington

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The sleepy community of Four Lakes will have an added bustle to it soon with the completion of the Highline Grain terminal and accompanying track upgrades allowing Burlington Northern Santa Fe unit trains to efficiently ship Northwest crops to markets worldwide.

Despite a return to a more traditional winter, the various elements of the project were on track to begin operation early in 2016.

That's the word from Keith Bailey, general manager and CEO of Ag Ventures and the operations officer for Highline Grain.

"It's going well, the construction is on target really," Bailey said. "We're slightly behind in getting some of our construction done, probably three, maybe four weeks behind." But it's not concerning.

The silos, referred to as the "eight pack," consist of eight tanks each holding about 110,000 bushels with the inner-silos 20,000-40,000.

Original plans at the $30 million, 1.5 million bushel facility were altered somewhat when Highline negotiated an agreement with ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) to bring in hard red winter wheat for their needs in the Spokane null.

"That required about half a million bushel capacity of additional space," Bailey said. To put up a steel tank was quite a bit less expensive than one constructed of concrete.

The multiple structures seen at Four Lakes have been designed to accept a variety of commodities.

"We'll have different classes of wheat," Bailey said. Those include soft white, club wheat — a sub class of soft white — as well as hard red winter and dark northern spring. The wheat the terminal will handle will be used in a variety of products from breads to noodles and many other end uses.

Circling the elevators is enough railroad track to handle loading of 110-car trains that will be taken back to Cheney.

As for the track improvements, "It's going quite well," Bailey said. The upgrades have included new rails, ties and grade crossings, plus new ballast.

"One of the things that's really nice in this project, because the High-line Group is doing the management and being reimbursed by the state, is we were able to put more dollars into the build-out," Bailey said.

Rather than have jointed rail, the section will have what is called CWR — continuously welded rail — in most of the track, Bailey said. About 50 percent of the ties are being replaced, too.

Money for the effort, about $7 million-plus, came from the Washington state transportation budget approved earlier this year by the legislature.

However the real money is coming from Highline Grain who is lending the Washington State Department of Transportation funds for the project, Bob Westby, the Palouse Coulee City Railroad rail manager for WSDOT, owners of the track, said. The state will pay Highline back over a period of years.

The upgraded rails not only will link the Highline facility but also improves access to the Spokane County-owned Geiger Spur. "That should allow any new commerce to be enhanced by that action."

The onset of winter that hit the region with cold and snowy weather recently has slowed the project but will not keep trains from using the track.

While there is still work to be done on the roadbed, "The majority of the project is finished," Josh Austin, area manager for contractor, RailWorks, said.

"We're pretty much done with the rails and ties," and that work will be completed when the first thaw hits, likely in February 2016, Austin said.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.



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Original Publication Date: December 31, 2015



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