POM gets statewide business benefit

A shipping container is offloaded from a railcar at one of the railroad spurs in May 2015 at the Port of Morrow.

In the next five years, the Port of Morrow will see massive railroad expansions with the hope that new jobs and industries may soon follow.

The project will be funded by a $19 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Developments (BUILD) program.

The money will fund the port’s Columbia River Barge Terminal Rail Access Project and will be supplemented by a $6.5 million grant from the state specifically for rail improvements.

Lisa Mittelsdorf, the economic development director for the port, said this is the third time the port has applied for the grant (formerly known as the TIGER grant), but the amount offered this year was more than in years past.

She said the federal grant offered money for rural infrastructure projects in general, but the port knew right away they wanted to fund a rail expansion project.

“It will be beneficial to existing businesses, which will have the availability to move cargo, whether bulk movement or containerized,” she said.

According to an application summary, the project will include constructing rail infrastructure to four separate barge terminals within the port’s industrial park, road improvements, bridge construction and improvements to specific terminal sites.

“It will give us the opportunity to not only increase existing business, but add businesses,” Mittlesdorf said.

She said that could include several types of businesses similar to those at the port now that transport contained products, solid waste, ethanol, wood chips and grain. She said they may even look into transporting food and refrigerated containers.

“Those are all things we’ll look at, but I can’t say there’s a particular project,” she said.

The port’s engineers will spend 2019 planning and designing the rail upgrades and getting permits. The port will begin the bidding process in 2020, and construction is planned to last until 2023.

Maps of the proposed expansions show that there will be two main components of the rail project: one will extend new rail lines from a new track, adjacent to the Union Pacific mainline, to three separate marine terminals in the port’s industrial park.

“It will be a huge construction project,” she said. “Right now there is no rail on the north side of the Union Pacific mainline.”

Terminal 1, which is a slip owned by the port, is being dredged of sand so it can be used more regularly.

The second major expansion will improve access the Morrow County Grain Growers terminal, which is under construction to get five new additional 200,000-bushel storage bins, a new bottom-dump rail unloading facility, and conveyor systems. Most of the expansions for that project will be funded by the $6.5 million state grant.

“That project is set to start construction very quickly,” Mittlesdorf said.

Mittlesdorf thanked U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and both of Oregon’s senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, for their role in securing the grant.

“They made phone calls, they did everything to support us,” she said.

She said as of now, they don’t anticipate any costs that will fall outside the $26 million that the two grants will cover.

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