BEACH — A proposed rail spur that could determine the future of Beach’s only grain elevator has spurred debate.
The Beach Grain Cooperative, struggling to stay relevant against larger competition, has asked the city to rezone about 156 acres on the east side of Beach from agricultural to commercial so it can build a $7 million railroad track expansion to help load 110-unit train cars.
“There’s a lot of interest,” said Al Begger, chair of Beach’s zoning board. “A lot of farmers are concerned. There are some of the people who live in houses that are going to be close to this.”
Residents who own property near where the proposed spurt say they understand Beach Grain’s need, but don’t want to see it put in their backyard — literally.
Heather Jandt spoke with The Press but asked that she be quoted from the statement she and her husband, Troy, wrote in opposition to the zoning request. The Jandts were one of multiple Beach residents and farmers who spoke either against or for the proposed expansion at the July 17 zoning board meeting, which attracted more than 100 people.
The zoning change will again be discussed and the application reviewed during a city zoning board meeting at 8 a.m. Monday at Beach City Hall.
The Jandts are building a house on Sixth Avenue Southeast, which is directly west of where the proposed rail spur would be constructed.
“We struggle to comprehend the need to create these hazards and disturbances in the immediate vicinity so close to what currently is a growing, safe, quiet residential area, primarily families with young children,” the Jandts wrote. “Other options are available which meet traditional zoning and the establishment of transitional buffer zones.”
Paul Latenschlager, manager of Beach Grain, said he thought getting land rezoned from agricultural to commercial for a rail spur would be easy compared to dealing with BNSF Railway, contractors and landowners.
“I just didn’t expect the city to put up such a disagreement about it,” Latenschlager said.
‘The only option’
Latenschlager said “this is the only option,” affordable to his elevator and will allow it to continue receiving the grain cars it needs from BNSF. With its current setup, Beach Grain can only load 52-car trains.
Beach Grain has an agreement to purchase the land from Too Far Farms if it is rezoned. The area is south of Main Street and extends from Sixth Avenue Southeast east to Highway 16 and south to 35th Street Southwest, a Golden Valley County rural road.
“The railroad has dictated to us and to the industry that that’s how they want to load the grain,” Latenschlager said. “There’s a significant freight advantage to loading 110 cars over single cars.”
Building a new facility outside of town with a circle track isn’t feasible for the amount of grain the cooperative moves, Latenschlager said.
“We’ve been looking at a rail plan since 2008 and we finally have a plan that’s been approved by the railroad,” Latenschlager said. “We’re trying to use our existing facility.”
He said Beach Grain struggles against competitors who offer higher prices for spring wheat and durum.
On Friday, 14 protein spring wheat closed the day at $5.35 at the Beach Grain Cooperative. It was $5.58 at the Southwest Grain Boyle Terminal outside of Gladstone and $5.67 at Farmers Elevator in Glendive, Mont.
“We’re not competitive anymore,” Latenschlager said. If the rezoning application does not pass, he said, Beach Grain will cut its wheat volume in half and focus more on specialty crops. “We’re not going to try and compete because we’ll lose money,” Latenschlager said.
Promises and precedents
Latenschlager told those attending the July 17 zoning board meeting that Beach Grain plans to utilize the rail spur approximately once a month for about 24 hours at a time when it is loading rail cars. Those in opposition, like the Jandts, say those are “verbal promises” and could change at any time.
“Could you or your family sleep through that?” the Jandts wrote in their statement.
Heather Jandt said her family rents a house about 260 feet from the tracks now. They chose to build their new house further from the tracks to get away from the noise, they said. Instead, they could end up even closer. The proposed rail spur would be about 150 feet from their house.
The Jandts say they are concerned about disturbances during the construction period and once the rail spur is in use. They are worried about noise, their children’s safety and the aesthetics of the lot they purchased being changed.
“It is extremely disheartening that when we move, we could face these unfortunate challenges which could, by your rejection of this proposal, be avoided,” the Jandts wrote. “We did not choose and do not want an environment which poses everyday dangers to our family.”
Latenschlager said he is hopeful the zoning board will approve the rezoning of the land and that the city will eventually approve the rail spur.
He pointed to a precedent the Beach City Council and zoning board set earlier this year, when it used its jurisdictional authority over Golden Valley County to rezone 275 acres immediately west of town from agricultural to industrial for a railport to be built by Utahbased Beach Railport. That railport will bring in oilfield commodities such as frac sand and pipe and will eventually ship oil.
“I guess if they want the town of Beach to go oil other than agriculture, that’s their decision,” Latenschlager said. “It’s not necessarily wrong. We’ve been here for 100 years. These people from Utah come in and get it zoned for oil. The direction they want the city to go is what they have to decide.”