The McCoy Grain Terminal groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday launched the next year of construction on a project anticipated to help Whitman County growers transport more of their crops more easily.

For about three years the Cooperative Agricultural Producers and Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative collaborated to rehabilitate the P&L shortline railroad that travels from McCoy to the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe mainline in Marshall, Wash. The $17 million project includes construction of a new office, several grain storage tanks and about 7,000 feet of newly laid track at the facility on State Route 271 between Rosalia and Oakesdale.

When finished, the facility will accommodate loading a 110-car shuttle train with more then 400,000 bushels of wheat in about eight hours. Co-Ag General Manager Jackie Tee said shuttle trains are largely preferred over trucking because they are loaded faster and more easily than tractor-trailer rigs - and they don't cost as much. Shipments of grain on the P&L line are expected to range from about 2,100 railcars per year to more than 6,000, according to a press release from Co-Ag.

"When you throw figures out like that, it's mind boggling," Tee said. "It's our goal to make money for the farmers in the area that are members of the co-op."

The Washington State Department of Transportation owns the P&L line, in addition to two other lines in eastern Washington. Tee said the P&L line was purchased from the previous owner in 2004, who deferred maintenance because of the high costs. The only other shuttle facility is in Ritzville, Tee said, and data show it generated about $6 million in revenue last year.

Tee declined to comment on how much they estimate the facility to generate in future years, but said the $17 million project is a private investment funded by Co-Ag and PNWC. She said they hope to have the operation running in time for harvest next fall.

"We've had such a wet spring, it's kind of stalled the excavation," she said. "So it's somewhat time-sensitive."

Port of Whitman County Commissioner Tom Kammerzell said Wednesday that price comparisons show river shuttling as the most cost effective method of crop transportation, followed by rail and then trucking. As a farmer, he said, he understands the necessity for more than one option.

"It's just another real positive tool for the growers in the area," Kammerzell said. "Heaven forbid if something were to happen to the river facilities - this gives us another outlet and keeps more trucks off the road."


Kelli Hadley can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 234, or by email to khadley@dnews.com.

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