PIERRE -- At least one member of the South Dakota Railroad Board is tired of the delays in the latest try at selling the state-owned railroad line between Napa Junction and Platte.
Dan Baker of Rapid City stood alone Wednesday in voting against granting another three-month extension of the current lease and sub-lease arrangements.
The proposed buyer, Iron Horse Development Company based at Kimball, was selected in October.
In December, the board granted a three-month extension to the current lease holder, the Napa-Platte regional railroad authority.
At that time, Bruce Lindholm, administrator for the state railroad office, told the board he thought the deal could be ready within 30 days.
Since then, Iron Horse changed the offer from a 10-year series of payments totaling $1.5 million to a single payment.
That switch caused the contract proposal to be re-written, Lindholm said Wednesday. Now the current lease is due to expire March 31 and the contract remains far from finished.
As the board members discussed a second extension Wednesday, Baker urged that the contract be made available to them far enough in advance to see whether the deal meets the five criteria set by Gov. Dennis Daugaard in an Oct. 31 letter to the board.
Lindholm promised to get the contract to the board “well, well in advance” of the meeting. He mentioned several weeks.
“We are talking about a variety of deals,” Lindholm said.
As Baker pressed for a timeline, the board’s chairman, Chet Groseclose Jr. of Sioux Falls, interjected.
“I think maybe we’re all a little impatient on that. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of negotiations,” Groseclose said.
Lindbloom then added, “I think it’s going to take three months -- or less, hopefully.”
The board waited for years on developers of the proposed Wagner Native Ethanol project to buy the line under an existing agreement with the board.
The governor wants the line sold. In his Oct. 31 letter, he asked the board to keep in mind five points:
- The ability of Dakota Plains Ag Center to proceed with its plans for a major grain-loading facility at Napa.
- The prospect of Wagner Native Ethanol.
- Ensuring that rehabilitation and operation “will progress on the line at a reasonable pace.”
- The line’s ownership revert to state government if the restoration of service doesn’t succeed.
- Multi-carrier access must be protected, so that trains using the route can continue coming and going from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad at Napa Junction.
In 2006, the state board officially adopted a resolution to sell 54 miles of the line from near Napa Junction to the ethanol project for $1,488,000.
Iron Horse came forward with a proposal to buy the line. Iron Horse’s principals are Christine and Eddie Hamilton of Kimball, along with financier Toby Morris of Pierre and Chuck Jepson of Fort Pierre. Jepson recently built the new grain terminal east of Kimball.
At the time Iron Horse was selected, the company had immediate plans to begin rehabilitating five to 10 miles of the eastern-most segment of the line and would keep the current operator, Dakota Southern Railroad, which is storing other railroads’ cars on part of the line.
The Napa-Platte regional railroad authority holds the lease on the eastern 54.5 miles. Dakota Southern holds the sub-lease.
The western 26.6 miles between Ravinia and Platte aren’t leased and likely will be scrapped, with proceeds from the salvage to be used for rehabilitating an eastern-most segment.
In other action Wednesday, the board let expire the $2.4 million loan that was promised to Dakota Mill and Grain of Rapid City for its Kimball elevator proposal. The company didn’t seek an extension.
“We’re not sure if it’s going to happen in the next 12 months or not,” company official Ron Mitzel said about the project.
He served on the board at the time the loan was approved by the board. He wasn’t reappointed.
The board voted 4-3 to grant a three-month extension for a $375,600 loan to Deadwood Biofuels. The company is working on an irrevocable letter of credit. Normally the board requires loans to be backed by a regional railroad authority that has taxing power.
“I just don’t agree with it,” board member Todd Yeaton of Highmore said.
Responded Groseclose: “This is not the right time to do it.”