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Beach residents debate railport

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BEACH — More than 100 Beach residents met Monday at their city hall to debate a railport proposed for just west of town — some in support, some against and some who just had questions.

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The $65 million facility, which would bring in commodities for the oilfield like frac sand and pipe, and would eventually ship out oil, will be designed to bring trucks in and out on its west side, from the Carlyle, Mont., exit — 1.3 miles to the west of the railport’s property line, developer Drew Hall said in a presentation before the public comments began.

The facility would be built in phases — the first would bring commodities in and out by fall 2015. The next phases, a couple years down the road, involve shipping out crude oil that is first trucked in, but eventually pipelined in.

At issue Monday was whether to approve the agricultural-to-industrial rezoning of 275 acres west of town.

Much of the support came from residents worried about what could happen to Beach, population of about 1,000, without some new employment opportunities.

“When we graduate, there’s really no incentive to come back unless of course your family has a ranch,” said Marshall Nunberg, a senior at Beach High School.

“If we just sit around and don’t make any progress, well what does Beach turn into? It turns into a bunch of old retired people.”

The comment drew laughter — and acknowledgement that he’s probably right.

But along with hope came worries of what could happen in the event of a disaster, and how the town’s day-to-day life would change with increased train traffic.

“I’ve gotta go across that track every day to get to work. I’ve sat 10 minutes waiting,” said Beach resident Pam Popiel, recommending developers also invest in an overpass.

“It’s a big expense but it’s something that maybe needs to be done.”

But developers said the facility would only increase traffic by about one train a day. Right now, about 23 pass through town daily.

Two hours into the meeting, the sound and shake of a train passing through town drew laughter at the irony.

The company developing the railport, Utah-based Beach Railport LLC, would also significantly upgrade the emergency services Beach has, which Hall said is needed anyway.

“Frankly, if you were to have an accident in the existing environment, you wouldn’t have an adequate response,” he said.

Another benefit touted is for property taxes. If the Golden Valley County budget stays about where it is now, Hall said, the facility’s value could ultimately reduce real property taxes by between 80 percent and 85 percent. The facility would permanently employ 45 to 60 people, at wages of about $30 an hour.

Residents, the zoning board and the company regularly compared the facility to the Fryburg transloading facility about 40 miles to the east. Since this project was initially proposed Jan 21, Beach zoning board and city council members even visited the Fryburg facility and met with Stark County zoning officials for insight.

The facility would be built for both east- and west-bound trains, depending on the markets and refining capacity.

A few Beach residents brought up concerns over the smell, but Strobel Starostka Transfer’s Steve Strobel, whose company is helping design and will operate the facility, said with its “closed loop” design, the loading will not expose crude oil vapors to the air. 

A popular sentiment in the city hall meeting room was one common among small North Dakota towns dealing with the boom: they’re not against oil development — as long as it’s done safely.

“That’s what built this country was the railroad — taking a few risks and doing a few things,” Beach resident Vern Tosner said, saying the facility’s economic impact could bring town improvements like a bigger grocery store, or more kids in school.

“People bring more people into town,” Tosner said.

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