EVERETT — A group of businesses including Cedar Grove Composting are proposing to build a short line rail loop on Everett’s Smith Island.
The plan submitted to the city of Everett calls for turning part of the island into a 61-acre railroad terminal with a 1.8 mile-long loop track connected to the BNSF mainline.
The terminal, a $7 million to $8 million project, will be overseen by an entity called Smith Island Terminal LLC, which is a partnership between Cedar Grove, Concrete Nor’west, Northwest Construction Inc. and other local property owners.
Freight trains could pull off the main line and onto the loop track, load up with compost, then head to a switching yard such as BNSF Railway Co.’s Delta Yard in northeast Everett. There, they could tie up to longer trains heading east over the mountains, where there is a ready market for compost in Washington’s burgeoning wine industry.
“Cost-effectively, we can’t get it there in bulk by truck,” said John Brigham, a senior vice president for Cedar Grove.
The company would still bring in organic waste by truck from local households and communities, and isn’t planning to increase its overall capacity on Smith Island, he said.
Cedar Grove has had a different problem: too much compost piling up on site and not enough places to sell it, especially during the recession.
The company processed 134,000 tons of compost at its Everett facility in 2014, even after it ended its contract with the city of Seattle in April. It was only in 2014 that it was able to once again sell as much compost as it took in organic waste, Brigham said.
In addition to the wine industry, compost can be used to clean up soil contaminated with petroleum. There is a lot of that in Montana, Brigham added.
Mark Wolken, a consultant and former commissioner of the Port of Everett with ties to the waste industry, said Cedar Grove had for years considered bringing rails to its Smith Island facility. The idea only picked up momentum in recent years after the company abandoned plans for an anaerobic digester and needed to find new markets for compost, most of which were out of the area.
“There’s a demand to be met if you can get it there efficiently,” he said.
Most of Cedar Grove’s current customers are local, Brigham said.
“The majority of what we sell still goes into someone’s back yard or it goes to building or condominium developments,” he said.
Making the rail terminal financially feasible is complicated.
One key element of the proposal is to operate the rail loop as a common carrier, meaning it could be used by anyone willing to pay.
The other key element is to build an underpass to replace the current at-grade rail crossing that trucks use to get to the island from Highway 529.
The underpass would account for more than half of the project’s costs, Wolken said.
But it was important to Concrete Nor’west, because while the company doesn’t have much use for freight rail service, its trucks were getting delayed by trains at the crossing, said Dan Cox, the company’s land use manager.
Concrete Nor’west trucks in its gravel from its operations in Granite Falls, Skagit County and elsewhere, and ships out concrete in mixer trucks to local destinations.
With rail traffic projected to increase in the coming years with more oil and coal trains heading to shipping terminals north of Everett, those delays will only get worse, Cox said.
“When the trains are there, we can’t get in or out of our plant,” Cox said.
Ready-mix concrete, he said, is a perishable product. “It’s got a shelf life sitting in the truck,” he added.
The terminal project would fill in 13.7 acres of wetlands that are in the upland portion of the island and replace them with about 15.5 acres of tidal salt marsh along Steamboat and Union Sloughs.
That’s actually an improvement, because the upland wetlands being replaced aren’t as amenable to salmon, said Allan Giffen, Everett’s planning director.
“The habitat they are creating is higher quality than the habitat they are impacting, especially for fish habitat” Giffen said.
A traffic study conducted by Transportation Solutions Inc. for the city found that the addition of the terminal would likely nearly double truck traffic to Cedar Grove’s facility, but that the trips generated would be spread throughout the day, and traffic impacts would mostly be confined to the local road network on Smith Island.
There’s another key point Wolken hastens to add: the Smith Island Terminal will not be able to handle coal, oil or other petroleum products, because the island doesn’t have deep water access for tanker ships.
But, he added, he’d received interest from Miller Shingle Co., which has a log yard on the island, and which could use the rail to receive more cut logs from lumber companies before processing and floating them out to waiting ships.
The terminal could also be used as a staging yard for other imported goods such as automobiles, construction steel or pipe or other dry cargo coming through the Port of Everett.
That cargo otherwise would have to go down to Seattle to get loaded onto rail cars.
Consequently, that could mean an increase in business for the Port of Everett, as shipping companies would have another place to offload their cargo near a rail terminal.
“It’s kind of a sweet little opportunity,” Wolken said.
Comment period on rail terminal plan
The Everett Planning Department is soliciting comments on a plan by Smith Island Terminal LLC to build a rail loop on the island.
The city of Everett has approved the plan subject to certain environmental conditions, and must receive comments by Jan. 23. In addition, the developer has applied for a shoreline permit, and the comment period for the permit runs until Feb. 9.
All comments should be mailed to the Everett Planning Department, 2930 Wetmore Ave., Suite 8A, Everett, WA 98201, or dropped off at the permit services counter at 3200 Cedar St. The plan will go before a city hearing examiner Feb. 26.
For more information, call Steve Ingalsbe in the city planning department at 425-257-8731.