KENNEWICK -- A dispute between the Port of Benton and the Tri-City Railroad Co. over use of a port-owned rail line appears settled, according to a port official.
Scott Keller, the port's executive director, said U.S. District Court Judge Edward F. Shea "ruled in favor of the port on all counts" at a Feb. 23 hearing.
Nicholas D. Kovarik, an attorney for Tri-City Railroad, said the judge has not issued a formal ruling yet, but he could not be reached for further comment.
Court records show a written order is coming from the judge.
Keller said what he heard at the hearing means "as far as we are concerned, the suit is over."
Tri-City Railroad had filed the suit in June in Benton County Superior Court, alleging the port was refusing to recognize its exclusive rights to use a port-owned 16-mile rail line. The line runs between Center Parkway in Kennewick and Horn Rapids Road in north Richland.
Tri-City Railroad had contended that the port, by also allowing BNSF Railway Co. to use the line, was causing Tri-City Railroad to lose a significant amount of money and to eliminate 30 positions.
Tri-City Railroad claimed a 2002 agreement to lease the line from the port had given the railroad company exclusive rights to the line.
Keller, however, said the agreement only was about Tri-City Railroad maintaining the line.
He said that when the federal government transferred ownership of the line to the port in 1998, the port also assumed an agreement that allowed BNSF to run on the line.
The Tri-City Railroad suit stemmed from an earlier legal wrangle between BNSF and Tri-City Railroad, Keller said.
Starting in 2000, Tri-City Railroad had been serving BNSF clients on the port-owned line.
That meant that when a BNSF-operated train arrived at the Center Parkway interchange, the BNSF engine would be switched out with a Tri-City Railroad engine.
The Tri-City Railroad engine then would pull the freight from Center Parkway to destinations off the port-owned line, and Tri-City Railroad charged BNSF for the service.
But in 2009, BNSF started handling its own train cars on the port-owned line.
The dispute came to a head when Tri-City Railroad crews stopped BNSF from using the track.
BNSF filed a complaint against Tri-City Railroad in U.S. District Court in Richland in July 2009.
Shea issued a temporary injunction that allowed BNSF and Tri-City Railroad to both use the line, Keller said.
When Tri-City Railroad then sued the port in 2010, the port asked to move the suit from Benton County Superior Court to U.S. District Court in Richland and to have it combined with the suit BNSF filed against Tri-City Railroad.
Keller said the court granted that request.
Keller said he's glad the case seems to be resolved. "When we acquired the railroad ... we were trying to spur economic development in north Richland and on the railroad and that has not been happening," he said.
"We just want to go on with development out there and people getting served," he said.