By RICK A. RICHARDS
KINGSBURY, Ind. — Harold Parker, president of the Farm Bureau of LaPorte County, is excited about the possibilities surrounding the new INland Logistics Port at Kingsbury Industrial Park.
Ground was broken Sept. 27 on the intermodal project that brings rail and truck traffic together, and Parker said the direct route that will provide to the southeastern United States could pay off big for farmers in northwestern Indiana.
He said farmers could someday be growing crops they wouldn’t consider growing today.
The key to the project is a two-mile rail spur from the main CSX line north to the INland Logistics Park. The development also includes construction of a 60,000 square-foot cold storage warehouse that will be the destination of produce shipped from Florida. “We know one thing for sure,” said Parker. “Those freight cars that come up here loaded with produce aren’t going back empty.”
Parker, who grows tomatoes, pickles and green beans for PictSweet and Red Gold, said that means other farmers could be making that kind of transition once the so-called Green Express operated by CSX begins regular service to Kingsbury. “Who knows? We could have someone start shipping processed meat to Florida,” he said. “We’ve just scratched the surface of the possibilities for agriculture.”
Gina Sheets, director of economic development for the Indiana Department of Agriculture, described the development as huge for Hoosier farming. “This is the biggest opportunity to move produce in the U.S. for our farmers,” she said. “We’ll be able to get produce from northwest Indiana to Florida in just 54 hours.
“And it’s not just for northwest Indiana. Our watermelon growers in southern Indiana could truck their produce up here and take advantage of the train service.”
Sheets said the opportunity to move produce anywhere in North America – from Quebec to Mexico – opens new doors for farmers. Completion of the project, though, will take anywhere from 10-12 years. Still, the first step taken Sept. 27 when Providence Logistics broke ground was exciting for the more than 200 people attending.
By the time the project is completed, some $500 million will have been invested in the project, which has the potential to create 4,000 new jobs. The direct economic impact on LaPorte County is only a guess at this point, but U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said, “This changes the future of LaPorte County forever.”
He played a key role in the project, which needed an easement over Army Reserve property in order to complete the rail spur. He helped broker a deal between LaPorte County officials and the U.S. Department of Defense that allows the rail line to be built in exchange for the Army Reserve Center to receive municipal water and sewer service from Kingsbury Utilities.
“I was pleased to help break ground on this important project,” said Donnelly. “The improvements in rail access will give our area businesses easier access to more markets – providing them with opportunities to grow their businesses and create more Hoosier jobs.
“I have said that I will work until every Hoosier who wants a job has a job, and I believe this project will help us work toward that goal.”
LaPorte County Commissioner Ken Layton was involved in the negotiations with the Army, CSX and developer Providence Logistics. He said he had no idea that negotiations would take six years. Delays in reaching an agreement with the Army was the biggest stumbling block and when that dragged on, original developer ICS Group pulled out. That’s when Providence Logistics stepped in – but they, too, needed assurance an agreement could be reached with the Army.
“It wasn’t until we received intervention from Congressman Donnelly’s office that things moved ahead,” said Layton, a Republican. “His assistance was invaluable.”
Layton said LaPorte County wanted to break ground last July, but couldn’t because the deal hadn’t been signed by everyone. He said Kingsbury Industrial Park’s infrastructure, including existing railbeds, played an important role.
During World War II, the site was known as Kingsbury Ordnance Plant, where thousands of civilian and military workers manufactured bombs that were used in the war effort in Europe and Japan. While some of the roads and railbeds need upgrades from when they were built, they still exist and that makes the current project possible.
The park is seven miles south of La Porte at the intersection of U.S. highways 35 and 6. Inside the park, Inland Logistics Port provides rail and truck access to the upper Midwest within a one-day drive of 41 million people.
The groundbreaking marks the beginning of Phase 1 of the project, which will include construction of the spur from the CSX main line. Once completed, Inland Logistics Port will be designed a CSX Select Site, one of only 10 such sites in the United States.
A $6 million rail funding agreement among the LaPorte County Council, LaPorte County Commissioners and LaPorte County Redevelopment Com-mission made the connection possible.
Brent Halfwassen, of the Halfwassen Group LLC and a co-owner of the property, said, “The Halfwassen Group and Providence Logistics would like to thank the LaPorte County Council, LaPorte County Commission and everyone who worked on this project for their leadership and support for this exciting new logistics center.”
INland Logistics Port is zoned for heavy industrial uses. The utilities and infrastructure at the site is designed to support a variety of distribution and manufacturing users with parcels ranging from 10-200 acres. J.D. Salazar of Champion Realty Advisors is marketing the property.
Jeffrey Wagoner, industrial development manager for CSX, said, “INland Logistics Porter-Kingsbury will be served by CSX Transportation via a dedicated connection to its Chicago to New York main line. Occupants will benefit from direct-rail access with the capacity for unit train shipments as well as from the property’s refrigerated warehousing and regional distribution capabilities. Sites within the park have flexibility to handle multiple uses, including manufacturing, processing and bulk storage.”
Bert Cook, executive director of the Greater LaPorte Economic Development Corp., said, “This is a great opportunity for us. LaPorte County is now open for business. By adding this new transportation connection to CSX, we now have the zoning, utilities, land and ample workforce; everything necessary for companies to be competitive in today’s marketplace.”