Keeping Focus on Intermodal

Posted: Mar 23 2021
L. John MacMartin Letter to the Editor
Minot Daily News

In assuming my role as interim president of the former Minot Area Development Corporation and now in serving as the president of the newly formed Minot Area Chamber EDC, it is clear we have an opportunity in front of us that can be a game-changer for our state and region. In October 2020, we were able to announce that North Dakota was launching intermodal rail service – the culmination of more than two decades of effort to gain access to intermodal transportation to reduce shipping costs for the state’s agricultural producers and other industries.
Promoting an economical and sustainable intermodal transportation opportunity for North Dakota creates tremendous long-term value to agriculture and manufacturing, and economic growth throughout the region. It also anchors our state on a competitive transportation level with Minneapolis, Chicago, and Kansas City, while opening opportunity and access to global markets.
I want to stress, North Dakota has been attempting to develop an intermodal solution for over two decades without success. Getting an operator to the Minot site was no small undertaking and our goal with the legislative ask is to remove the barriers that stand in our way from developing long-term successful intermodal program. We need to purchase infrastructure assets and expand site infrastructure. This costs money.
In 2020, Minot Chamber EDC approached the financial institutions that now own 9 acres of land and certain above ground assets and persuaded them to lease the property for one year for intermodal service. The banks agreed and we secured a commitment from the present operator to take a chance that we could transition to a longer-term arrangement.
The present operator is now conducting business under a provisional arrangement with BNSF. The provisional arrangement ends August 1, 2021. What needs to happen before this deadline is an expansion of the rail infrastructure to allow whole unit trains to be loaded. That expansion will cost between $2.2 million to $3.1 million.
In addition, the one-year lease, which started October 2020, was designed as an interim step to get the operator on site and negotiate a sale of the above ground assets, owned by several financial institutions. These assets had been obtained through foreclosure. While these financial institutions can hold these assets on their books for a while, they cannot be in the real estate business long-term. They will sell these assets. The only question is whether we will find a way to acquire them, or whether they will be sold for other purposes.
To secure these assets and assure their dedication to long-term intermodal service, the Minot Chamber EDC then initiated conversations with the financial institutions to buy the assets. Through back and forth discussions we arrived at a price. The Minot Chamber EDC was then faced with the challenge of meeting that price. That’s when the Minot Chamber EDC invited Minot area legislators into the conversation.
Our community has made a significant investment to bring intermodal service here, investing approximately $12 million over the past 15 years. The ask to the state is $10 million for an Intermodal Transportation Assistance Program which is proposed as an appropriation to the North Dakota Department of Commerce for the stable operation of intermodal service in North Dakota. This ask was developed through hard work from Minot Area Chamber EDC and legislators.
The financial institutions have a valuable asset. It can be sold to anyone and does not need to be used for intermodal.  We want to buy them. No one is getting a “bailout.”  This is a negotiated purchase of assets, period. The requested funding would allow Minot Chamber EDC the ability to make that purchase happen and ensure the site remains focused on providing intermodal service.
Because the benefits will be realized state-wide, we think it makes sense that the state help us secure and develop this infrastructure. It is an extension of the public roads that carry our goods from farms and businesses to the markets, and, in the case of intermodal infrastructure, to global markets.
After decades of effort, we finally have an operating intermodal site that is increasing the value of our agricultural and manufactured products. By acquiring the assets, we will secure intermodal service for years to come.
L. John MacMartin
Minot Area Chamber EDC, President