Thursday, June 13, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Commissioners, Mebane council members view site for potential “transload” rail facility

Each board will be asked to contribute $300,000 to supplement $2.6M from state

A group of Alamance County’s commissioners and Mebane’s city council spent an hour or so Friday afternoon looking at a potential site for a proposed “transload” rail line facility at the corner of West Holt Street and Lake Latham Road.

The facility would serve additional industrial tenants in the North Carolina Industrial Center, including Jabil, Ferraro Foods, and Universal Preserv-a-Chem, according to Brian Hall with Greensboro-based Samet Corporation, which has been the developer of the industrial park.

The transload depot would build on the railroad spur that already connects to Cambro Manufacturing, another tenant in the same Samet industrial park.

The members of county’s board of commissioners and Mebane’s city council ultimately took advantage of a break in Friday’s rainy day to visit this vacant 4-acre parcel where the Samet Corporation of Greensboro proposes to build a “transload” facility for moving rail cargo to and from the North Carolina Railroad.

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It was during this tour that the two groups also learned that Samet would like them to contribute a combined sum of $600,000 to supplement the $2.6 million that North Carolina’s General Assembly has already ponyed up for this endeavor.

Situated at the corner of West Holt Street and Lake Latham Road, the property which the city council and the commissioners visited on Friday enjoys a strategic location within the North Carolina Industrial Center, an industrial park that Samet has been developing in Mebane for the past 23 years.

Located literally within shouting distance of the North Carolina Railroad, this same corner of the park had originally attracted the notice of the container manufacturer Cambro nearly a decade ago. By 2014, Cambro had agreed to set up a production plant within the park’s grounds after Samet agreed to construct a rail spur to serve the facility’s needs with some financial assistance from the state.

Brian Hall, the head of Samet’s real estate operations, acknowledged that he and his colleagues have long wanted to add onto this rail spur in order to provide rail access to other businesses.

“This particular concept has been around for about 10 years,” he added during Friday’s interjurisdictional outing. “Many of our prospects say to us we don’t have to have rail service, but if we did have access to rail, it would make us better.”

[Story continues below photo collage.]

Brian Hall with Samet Corporation outlines to Mebane city councilman Tim Bradley where the rail line would be built. Cambro Manufacturing is in the background.
State senator Amy Galey, who was instrumental in getting the $2.6 million state allocation for the transload facility, is shown with county commissioner Bill Lashley and Mebane city councilman Tim Bradley.
County commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr. with Mebane mayor Ed Hooks. Beside Hooks is Mebane city manager Chris Rollins; in background are Mebane city councilman Sean Ewing and county commissioner Steve Carter.
Samet’s Brian Hall with Mebane assistant city manager Preston Mitchell. (Cambro Manufacturing is in the background.)
Mebane mayor Ed Hooks talks with David Putnam, the chamber of commerce’s economic developer.
County manager Heidi York (center) points to something on the map held by David Putnam from the Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce to show commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr. At left, Mebane city manager Chris Rollins looks at materials from the chamber of commerce while commissioners Steve Carter and Bill Lashley converse at right.

Hall noted that several companies in the North Carolina Industrial Center have already expressed interest in using this site once it’s up and running. He added that these potential clients include Ferraro Foods, UPI, and Jabil, the corporate successor to Nypro.

David Putnam, the economic developer for the Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce, said that this project may even attract business that now use other transload facilities in Winston-Salem and Fuquay-Varina.

“They’re inundated,” he noted, “and having [another facility] here, centrally located, would be very convenient for them.”

Hall said that Samet has teamed up with Norfolk Southern to come up with a design for this proposed transload hub that could accommodate as many as 10 rail cars at a time. Under this plan, Samet would extend the “lead line” that it originally built to serve Cambro. It would

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then loop this line around and run it back through the vacant lot that adjoins Cambro’s property. There, the lead line would then branch off into a pair of rail spurs where businesses could load and unload cargo.

Hall said his company would build a four-foot high dock alongside these two spurs to allow businesses to load and unload rail cars. He added that businesses without their own private rail spurs would be able to use this facility to ship and receive cargo along the North Carolina Railroad. Hall said that the site itself would be owned and operated by a nonprofit corporation – NCIC Railroad Inc. – which would collect fees from the facility’s users to pay for the site’s upkeep and maintenance.

“It’s like a community swimming pool,” he went on to explain. “We’re going to develop a pool and let anybody who wants to swim get in over here.”

Hall and Putnam both stressed that this facility would handle ordinary rail cargo and not the sort of hazardous loads that were involved in Norfolk Southern’s recent derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Putnam acknowledged that this proposed venture has already piqued the interest of North Carolina’s state government, which prompted the General Assembly to set aside $2.6 million for the endeavor in the annual budget it passed in 2021.

During Friday’s site tour, state senator Amy Scott Galey, offered her own justification for this six-figure outlay, whose inclusion in the state budget she had personally championed nearly two years ago.

“One of the best uses of taxpayer dollars,” she declared, “is when you can make an investment in something that businesses can’t afford to pay for themselves, which is going to create jobs and increase prosperity in the community.”

Putnam conceded that the soaring cost of construction has only increased Samet’s original estimate of this project’s expense. He added that, as things currently stand, the company anticipates a total price tag of $3.2 million. To this end, he encouraged both Alamance County and Mebane to chip in $300,000 apiece to bring this plan to fruition.

Read the preview story about Friday’s tour:

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