Railex's $20 million wine storage and distribution center near Wallula is a beehive of activity as workers finish pouring the floor and installing the roof of the 500,000-square-foot building.
While the shipping company works on the building meant to store wine from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the Port of Walla Walla is digging into road and rail improvements to accommodate Railex's growth.
Part of that infrastructure need is prompted by an increase in activity at Railex's current 215,000-square-foot facility in the Dodd Road Business Park, thanks to a new Railex distribution center planned for Georgia or Florida.
Building that new distribution center would double the number of trains to Railex to four a week, said Jim Kleist, senior vice president of West Coast operations for Railex. It would bring the company from its current load of 120 cars a week to 180 to 200 rail cars a week.
Railex is on schedule to open the wine center Feb. 1, Kleist said. The volume expansion is planned for sometime during the last six months of 2013.
The port's rail track isn't large enough to handle a doubling in volume, he said.
That's why rail is part of the infrastructure the Port of Walla Walla is investing in.
The port is extending Railex Road to the wine warehouse, said Jim Kuntz, the Port of Walla Walla's executive director. That extension will cost about $577,000.
Next year, the port plans to add additional rail track to accommodate increased trains, Kuntz said. That project will cost about $2.1 million.
The port also will extend Railex Road to Raindance Road near Boise Cascade, a $1 million project, he said. This will add a second access to Highway 12.
Walla Walla County is working with the port on that road extension, Kuntz said.
Railex's new wine warehouse is a significant project, and will mean an additional $300,000 in property taxes a year, Kuntz said.
And Railex could add up to 125 new jobs next year for the wine warehouse and train volume growth, Kleist said.
Officials say adding a Railex distribution center in Georgia or Florida will improve the company's ability to reach the East Coast, where 60 percent of the U.S. population lives.
Railex already ships about 1 million cases of Ste. Michelle's wine each year. In addition, trains from Washington now deliver produce, such as apples, onions and frozen vegetables, to the East Coast in their refrigerated, temperature-controlled freight cars.
Railex may also expand the wine warehouse in the future. Kleist said the company has been referring to the warehouse that can store up to 5 million cases of wine as the first phase.
But what will be needed will depend on how providing transportation for the Washington wine industry goes, he said.
Port commissioners also will consider building an elevated water storage tank that could serve the Dodd Road and Wallula Gap business parks, Kuntz said. That project could cost about $4.7 million and would provide potable water and fire flow to both business parks.
There still are 236 acres available at the Dodd Road Business Park, and 1,900 acres at the Wallula Business Park, Kuntz said.
The $2.7 million in state appropriations will help pay for the infrastructure improvements, Kuntz said. The port also is pursuing other grants.
The port also receives $30 for each car that is loaded or unloaded, Kuntz said. Some of that money will help pay for improvements.
Prioritizing capital projects will be one of the topics the port commission tackles during its Nov. 20 retreat, Kuntz said. But Dodd Road Business Park likely will get the lion's share.
"That Dodd Road Business Park has really got a very bright future," Kuntz said.