The Richland City Council on Tuesday night gave its OK to several agreements that set the stage for development of a full-size rail loop in the Horn Rapids Industrial Park.
The agreements include selling about 25 acres and leasing about 21 acres of city land to Central Washington Transfer Terminal, the company that's proposing the rail loop project. The loop also would be open for use by other companies.
Council members described the project as a boon for the city, helping toward the goal of diversifying the economy away from dependence on the Hanford site.
"This is a good thing to do for the right reason," said Councilman Phillip Lemley.
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A full-size rail loop is one that's big enough to hold a unit train for loading and offloading without uncoupling. Unit trains usually have about 100 cars and carry a single commodity.
Central Washington Transfer Terminal also plans to build a storage facility for the goods as part of the first phase of its project.
The unit trains using the proposed loop will haul corn and other dairy feed. Other goods also could be added in the future, although coal, hazardous waste and radioactive material won't be allowed.
Initially, about one unit train -- traveling in Richland on the Port of Benton tracks that start at Tapteal and Columbia Center Boulevard -- would come through every three weeks to use the loop.
A maximum of about 2.5 unit trains a week eventually could use the rail loop.
Unit trains aren't new to Richland; they've come through the city before.
Officials have said the loop project would lead to new tax revenue, jobs and potentially up to $100 million in private investment in the city.
Council members discussed the proposed project for nearly an hour during Tuesday's meeting, asking questions about its benefits and impacts. Some noted the long trains could bring some inconvenience, namely having to wait a few minutes longer at railroad crossings when they pass.
But the economic development advantages are significant, council members said.
"This is something we should all be very excited about," said Councilman Bob Thompson. "This is a great thing."
Also Tuesday, the council in a unanimous vote finalized the 2014 budget. It totals $256 million, an increase of 2.2 percent over this year.
The budget includes several capital projects, including a new fire station in southwest Richland.
To help pay for the fire station, the ambulance utility rate is set to go up by $2.32 a month. (That increase needs one more vote of approval from the council). The electric utility occupation tax also will increase a bit, about 1.1 percent for most customer classes. But that still will leave the tax rate below the voter-approved limit and also below that of neighboring cities.
The 2014 spending plan doesn't include a property tax increase. The general fund, which pays for services such as public safety and parks, totals $58 million.
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald