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Commissioners, Mebane council train their sights on potential location for new cargo depot

New ‘transload’ facility would provide local rail access for industry

Alamance County’s leaders will make tracks to Mebane later this week to check out a site where area businesses may one day be able to load and unload rail cargo without leaving the county.

The county’s board of commissioners is scheduled to meet with Mebane’s city council on Friday to explore one possible location for this proposed “transload” facility at the corner of West Holt Street and Lake Latham Road.

The two groups will convene on this now vacant lot at 1:30 p.m. in order to learn more about the public-private endeavor to transform this patch of empty land along the railroad into an entrepot for train cargo.

According to Alamance County’s manager Heidi York, the local chamber of commerce has been pursuing this project for some time in collaboration with the Samet Corporation of Greensboro.

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“This has really been a project of the chamber,” York acknowledged in an interview Tuesday. “But now, Mebane and Alamance County are coming to the table to learn more about the value of the asset.”

York went on to share the official invite to visit this site that the commissioners recently received from David Putnam, who serves as the economic development director for the Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce. On Thursday, Putnam sent out an email with his overall plan for this fieldtrip.

“This ‘tour,’” he explained in the electronic missive, “would be an opportunity to see the asset, visualize the impact, and ask questions to the developer (Samet) and [state] senator Amy Galey who both are very passionate about the project and will be in attendance.”

The site of Samet’s proposed venture consists of just under 4 acres which presently belong to a limited partnership formed by the family of Clifford M. Ray, Jr. This parcel is situated at the northwestern edge of the North Carolina Industrial Center, a business park that Samet has been steadily piecing together on the outskirts of Mebane.

For much of its 20-year-history, the industrial center’s development had been concentrated near its primary entrance off of South Third Street. All that changed in 2014 when Cambro, a manufacturer of commercial food storage containers, acquired land at the park’s northern end in order to set up a plant with direct access to the North Carolina Railroad.

As part of a multimillion-dollar offer to sew up Cambro’s commitment to this site, the state government agreed to construct a spur off of the railroad’s main line to serve the company’s immediate needs. In the meantime, there’s been a move afoot to extend the same benefit to other companies that aren’t within easy reach of the state-owned railroad.

Last week, Putnam told the board of commissioners that the proposed transload facility would provide this indirect rail access to businesses that must presently go out of county to ship or receive cargo which travels by rail.

“It’s what we would call bumping cars,” Putnam elaborated last Monday during a quarterly report on the chamber’s activities, “and you could do that both ways: you could bump cars from the truck to the train or you could bump cars from the train to the truck…and it would provide rail access to industrial employers that would otherwise not have it.”

In order to fast track this project’s development, North Carolina’s General Assembly has earmarked $2.6 million for the construction of a new transload facility in Mebane. This allocation originally appeared in a state budget that was implemented in the fall of 2021 after a long, drawn-out brawl between North Carolina’s Democratic governor and the Republican-led General Assembly.

The transload hub was one of several line items from that hard-fought budget which were subsequently highlighted by Amy Scott Galey, a Republican who represents Alamance County and a portion of Randolph in North Carolina’s state senate. The state’s budgetary outlay was also welcomed by Mebane’s city manager Chris Rollins, who hailed it at the time as the potential realization of a long-harbored dream for the city’s municipal leaders.

“We were trying to get [a transload facility] five or six years ago when Cambro first went there,” Rollins told The Alamance News in November of 2021. “But it never came together.”

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