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Upward and onward: N.D. Mill and Elevator weighing big expansion

Vance Taylor, president and CEO of the North Dakota Mill, stands in the alleyway of a new unloading facility for trucks and trains that was completed about a year ago and part of the first phase of rail expansion at the north Grand Forks facility. Photo by Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

The North Dakota Mill and Elevator — among Grand Forks' largest, most imposing features — will get a little bit bigger this summer.

Mill leaders hope to add 18,000 more feet of railroad track and an extra 500,000 bushels of storage space this summer — up from 4 million — pending approval later this month from top state officials. Vance Taylor, the mill's president and general manager, said rail deliveries are trending toward trains longer than 100 cars, instead of the once-typical 50-to-70 car trains, as the mill itself handles more and more intake.

"Our total bushels that we grind have gone from about 16 million (in 2000) to 33 million this year," Taylor said. Not only is the new project vital for the mill's continued growth, he added, but it's important to keep the mill serving area farmers.

The new railway will extend alongside Mill Road northward past the intersection with North Columbia Road before turning north for about 3,500 more feet. When finished, it will allow long trains to pull alongside the mill as sections are unlinked and unloaded. The new storage space will be placed along the large, white, cylindrical bins on the mill's campus.

Vance declined to state cost estimates, noting that the project is seeking bids from contractors. But he did say that a phase of the project built last year, which added about 3,800 feet of track and a new unloading and transfer point, cost about $9.6 million. Construction will be weather dependent, he said, beginning as soon as May and wrapping up before the end of the year.

Grand Forks leaders are keeping a close eye on the project. City documents state there are "a number of features" that both the city and the mill will have to work through together. Buried utilities like water and sewer lines will have to be relocated, for example, and a long train could block Bacon Road and 27th Avenue North "for approximately 15 to 20 hours," though Taylor's estimate is at the low end of this range. The bridge over the English Coulee at 27th Avenue North will be reinstalled.

Traffic detours are expected for drivers in the area, notably along Mill Road, where the bulk of interruptions are expected to occur, though Taylor stressed project officials would work "to keep traffic disruptions to a minimum." And once the project is completed, Taylor said only about two of the lengthy trains are expected to come per month. When they do arrive, he said, electronic signage will indicate that drivers should find alternate routes.

The project still requires approval from the state Industrial Commission, which next meets on April 17. In the meantime, Vance is looking forward to a new, improved state mill.

"We're excited about the possibility of completing this project," he said.

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108
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