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Roughly $40M grain-loading facility in S.D. fills first train

KENNEBEC, S.D. -- Kennebec's new grain facility is really rolling now. The Wheat Growers facility greeted its first train, which arrived in Kennebec late Monday afternoon from Mitchell and began filling it with soybeans in the early-morning hours...

KENNEBEC, S.D. - Kennebec's new grain facility is really rolling now.

The Wheat Growers facility greeted its first train, which arrived in Kennebec late Monday afternoon from Mitchell and began filling it with soybeans in the early-morning hours Tuesday-a process that lasted throughout the day. The loading was expected to be finished by 5 p.m. Tuesday and the train would then head back to Mitchell.

The loading of the 115-car train marks the opening of the Mitchell-Rapid City rail line from Chamberlain west through Reliance and Kennebec to Presho, which had been closed since the mid-1990s, according to the South Dakota Department of Transportation.

"Really, like I told the guys, a few years from now we get to tell people we loaded that first train," Location Manager Todd Longville said. "That's a big deal to us because not everybody gets to be part of that."

The facility, which cost roughly $40 million to build, comes as the result of a rehabilitation project on the state-owned railroad line that runs west from Chamberlain, according to Wheat Growers CEO Dale Locken, who vowed prior to the start of the rehab project in 2014 to invest in a grain loading and fertilizer distribution center once heavy rail reached the area.

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Wheat Growers has operations in 37 communities and 600 employees serving some 17,000 farmers, according to Locken.

The idea was received well by state officials and, more importantly, Longville said, community members.

A local group, Rails to the Future, fundraised and gained grants from the state and federal government to improve a line that runs from Mitchell to Presho so it would be able to withstand higher weight requirements. The line is run by Dakota Southern.

"Local farmers kind of did a grassroots meeting in the fire hall in Kennebec and said, 'Hey, we want to try to raise some money to get the rail rebuilt,' and they raised more than $1 million to put toward this," Longville said. "So there's a lot of excitement and a lot of interest in it, and there's a lot of local pride."

The fundraising, along with a $12.8 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant and $14.2 million in funding from the state, with half coming from the State Rail Board and $7.2 million from the state legislature, led to the groundbreaking of the facility in October 2014.

Before the opening of the new facility, Wheat Growers had to use trucks to transport grain from the Kennebec location to another town with a shuttle loader.

Loading a train in the future will take approximately six hours, on average. On Tuesday, it took nearly double that time, but Longville said it was expected. And, though it took longer, aside from "minor" miscues in operating equipment for the first time, everything went according to plan.

That was thanks, in part, to help from more experienced workers, like Mike Senyak, manager of the Highmore Wheat Growers location.

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And Senyak was happy with Tuesday's process.

"It's going good. The cars are rolling nice and there's not much of a mess out there," Senyak said.

The next train to be loaded is scheduled to be in Kennebec on Thursday. Longville said the number of trains the facility will see each week will fluctuate, dependent upon the time of the year and grain markets.

But, regardless, the facility will bring more traffic to the small Lyman County town of 250 people. Longville said he wouldn't be surprised if the facility leads to growth in Kennebec, as well, as it has already resulted in the building of a small apartment complex.

"It is a huge deal for the money it's brought to this part of central South Dakota," Longville said. "The gas stations get to sell some more fuel, the repair shops sell tires. It's been good for Kennebec."

Related Topics: SOYBEANSSOUTH DAKOTACROPS
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