WADOT news release from February 8, 2007.
About a dozen representatives of the wheat and grain industry gathered at the state Capitol this morning (Wednesday) in the governor's conference room with Rep. Mike Armstrong. They and an official of the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad were waiting for Gov. Christine Gregoire's arrival and her signature on a document that would begin the sale of an Eastern Washington short-line railway to the state of Washington.
"How are you?" the governor asked as she walked through the door.
"We're excited, governor!" said Armstrong with a smile on his face.
"This is a day to celebrate," noted the governor as she sat at the conference table preparing to sign the memorandum of understanding.
The document defines the sale process between Watco Companies Inc., owner of the CW Branch rail line, and the state of Washington. The rail line is located between Coulee City and Cheney.
With the prices of steel so high, Armstrong said Watco at one time had considered removing the track and selling it for scrap.
"Money had been set aside in 2003 to purchase a number of short lines. This rail line was supposed to have been one of them. However, the Department of Transportation never got the deal put together. Somehow this line got overlooked," said Armstrong, R-Wenatchee. "Watco decided since the steel prices were so high, they could get more money out of scrapping it than operating it. That would have left our wheat farmers high and dry.
"Our local farmers needed that line badly to transport grain, so they came to me in December of 2005 asking for help. I called Senator Bob Morton, Senator Mark Schoesler and Representative David Buri to get their help," added Armstrong. "We've been working since that time to negotiate this memorandum of understanding between the rail owner and the state, which sets forth the process for the state to purchase this line."
"Representative Armstrong was the first legislator we contacted about this issue in December 2005. He has been very instrumental all the way through this process, and he's been the lead legislator on this whole project all the way through to the conclusion," said L. Kevin Whitehall, general manager of Central Washington Grain Growers, Inc., in Waterville.
The memorandum of understanding also includes the purchase of the P&L Branch line in the Pullman area, the Hooper line between Pullman and Hooper, a portion of the WIM line between Palouse and the Washington-Idaho border, and a portion of the rail line between Thornton and Winona. Sale price of the lines is just over $7.9 million.
Armstrong said once the purchase is final, the state will accept bids for an operator.
"It's a huge victory for our farmers to keep these lines open. We estimate that there'll be 4,000 carloads of wheat from that plateau each year. It also allows them a way to haul in their fertilizer," noted Armstrong. "The other victory is for the county road department. It keeps trucks off those roads that would do a lot of damage. Local governments, such as Douglas County, cannot afford to repair those roads once they are damaged."
Armstrong said the grain would be transported to Ritzville where it is transferred to container cars that would be trucked to the Columbia River.
"This will save our growers thousands of dollars a day from this day to generations to come. It will keep those growers competitive in the marketplace where they would not have been as competitive without that line," added Whitehall.
Back in the governor's office, representatives from Central Washington Grain Growers stood next to Armstrong, Rep. David Buri, R-Colfax, and the governor as she and Watco Senior Vice President Mark Blazer signed the memorandum of understanding.
As Armstrong prepared to shake the governor's hand, he added, "It's been a long process. However, good things happen when we all stick together and work together."
Under the terms of the understanding, the sale should be closed by Feb. 28, with final payment made by Sept. 30, 2007.