Going Grain

Big plans in store for $200 million terminal at the Port of Longview

One year into the construction of a massive grain elevator and ship berth at the Port of Longview, backers of the project say they're looking forward to the completion of the $200 million project.

The project, known as the Export Grain Terminal, will be the ninth berth at the Port of Longview and the first grain terminal constructed in the United States in a quarter-century, according to the port.

"Construction continues to go well and we are still on target for the Fall 2011 harvest," said Deb Seidel, the director of communications for St. Louis-based Bunge North America. Bunge, the North American Arm of agribusiness giant Bunge Limited, has a majority stake in EGT Development LLC, the Portland-based joint venture set up in June 2009 to fund, build and operate the new terminal.

The facility will be capable of handling grain, oil seeds and protein meals, according to a press release issued by Bunge at the start of the project's construction. 

Located at the Columbia River's mile 66, the new terminal will include a 500-foot-long dock and three fixed shiploaders with movable arms capable of moving 120,000 bushels, or 3,000 metric tons, per hour. It will also be able to unload barges from the river with a 240-foot-long dock capable of transferring 40,000 bushels or 1,000 metric tons per hour.

The facility will have a rail unloading capacity equal to that of the shiploaders. The project will feature a 46,000-foot-long looping rail- track capable of unloading four 110-car trains at any time. The site, which is served by a dedicated spur from the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific main line, will have three receiving pits. It will also feature a shuttle system for unloading the trains that will be "highly efficient."

Seidel wouldn't provide further explanation about how the efficiencies in the shuttle system or elsewhere at the facility were measured, but described the project as "state of the art."

Once completed, the Export Grain Terminal will be capable of handling up to 8 million tons of grain annually.

Joining Bunge in the venture are Itochu Corp., a Japanese general trading firm with an increasing interest in food production, distribution and sales to Asian markets, and STX Pan Ocean, a South Korean shipping firm. Together, the firms recognized the Columbia River is uniquely positioned for selling grain grown in North America to Asia.

"The Pacific Northwest is the second largest export corridor in North America with volumes expected to continue to grow because of increasing demand for agricultural products in Asia," Seidel said. 

Contracted to build the new terminal is the T.E. Ibberson Company. Ibberson, a subsidiary of Steamboat Springs, Colorado-based TIC, has significant experience building agricultural and industrial facilities. According to its website, it began in 1881 building small grain elevators and progressed to increasingly complex projects over the ensuing 125 years. The firm has an existing relationship with Bunge, for whom it built another grain export facility in Destrehan, Louisiana.

Bob Wolyson, Ibberson's project manager for the Port of Longview project, referred all contact from the Vancouver Business Journalto Seidel.

"Ibberson has extensive experience in building this type of facility," Seidel said.

The port's website says it expects the new facility to provide 200 construction jobs. After completion, it said, the facility will generate about 50 full-time jobs, with another 35 ancillary positions associated with the vessels and trains servicing the terminal. Officials at the port of Longview did not return calls or emails about the Export Grain Terminal.

Other ports along the Columbia are taking a wait-and-see approach to how Longview's new export terminal will impact their bottom lines. Some might not respond until the facility has opened.

Todd Coleman, deputy executive director for the Port of Vancouver, doesn't see any short-term impact from a competitive standpoint with the elevator at the Port of Vancouver. Coleman said, "This terminal (operated by United Harvest) just handles wheat. The Export Grain Terminal in Longview is being constructed for grain, primarily corn and soybeans."

"We are truly waiting and seeing," said Liz Newman, the Port of Kalama's marketing and communication manager. "There's not much else we can do."

Kalama is a "landlord port" that leases its facilities to exporters, including Cenex Harvest States and Kalama Export. Those companies were unable to respond by press time to requests for details about how the Longview project might compare to their own facilities. Newman said whether the Export Grain Terminal affects operations at Kalama is up to those companies.

"For [the port], we want to see as much grain going through the Port of Kalama as possible," Newman said.

Newman cautioned that recent steady growth in grain exports and enthusiasm about the potential in Asian markets may be somewhat tempered by grain's cyclical nature.

"We try to diversify," Newman said. "Our goal is not just grain export for its own sake, but to maintain the jobs in our community."

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