Dakota Southern selected to lease Napa-Platte rail line

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Farm Forum

PIERRE — Ending what had become a 10-year stalemate, the state Railroad Board on Sept. 16 chose a different party to run the defunct Napa-Platte line.

Board members voted 4-1 to give Dakota Southern railroad a 60-day lease, effective Sept. 21, and directed the state Department of Transportation to assemble a 20-year contract.

The decision opens the way for a $35 million elevator complex and rail hub planned by Dakota Plains Ag Center to be constructed on 27 acres in northern Yankton County.

The site is part of a proposed 196-acre industrial park on which Dakota Plains and Dakota Southern have agreed to be partners.

The line came into state government’s possession after the Milwaukee Road bankruptcy in the late 1970s.

It crosses through productive agricultural areas of Yankton, Bon Homme and Charles Mix counties, where farmers rely on trucks for access to markets because there no longer is regular rail service.

“We’ve been debating this area and this track in this area a long time. We want to do what’s best for everyone,” Todd Yeaton of Kimball, the state board’s chairman, said. “We want to make things happen.”

An earlier attempt involving Dakota Southern and various investors from outside the immediate Napa-Platte line stalled in 2013, amid local resistance and because of dogged local support for a proposed ethanol plant that couldn’t get enough financing to move forward.

Dakota Southern has shown itself as an able operator on the state-owned track west from Mitchell, known as the MRC line.

Regular service is back in place on the MRC line as far as Chamberlain, with a new grain elevator and fertilizer complex near Kimball where Yeaton is now the manager.

Another major rehabilitation project is underway on the MRC line from Chamberlain to Presho, including the Missouri River bridge. Wheat Growers is constructing a large elevator and fertilizer complex at Kennebec along that segment.

Two of the state board members didn’t participate in the vote on Sept. 16. Carl Anderson of Aberdeen, who was participating by telephone, abstained because he wasn’t able to be on the call during one of the presentations. Yeaton as chairman also chose to abstain.

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