On the shore of the estuarine bay of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen, WA, Ag Processing Inc’s (AGP) new port terminal elevator sits only 12 miles away from the Pacific Ocean — offering vessels leaving this port access to the shortest route to the Pacific Rim on the West Coast. Boasting 3 million bushels of storage, rail access and deep-water port status, the port expansion solidifies AGP’s global position as one of the nation’s top soy meal exporters.
AGP, an Omaha, NE-based farmer-owned cooperative, began its unique partnership with the Port of Grays Harbor (PGH) in 2000. At the time, AGP was looking for a location where it could more efficiently market and ship products to Pacific Rim countries, including Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. PGH, “the only deep-draft port capable of accommodating large ocean-going vessels on Washington’s coast,” proved the ideal location to meet AGP’s marketing needs. In addition to sitting only one and a half vessel hours from the open sea, the port’s excess rail capacity on the short line and unused capacity at the dock made PGH a no-brainer.
“At first I was a little skeptical,” says PGH executive director Gary Nelson, who joined the port around the time AGP expressed interest in establishing operations in the Pacific Northwest. “At the time there was plenty of capacity on the Colombia River and Puget Sound. [AGP] explained that it wasn’t looking to replace existing facilities; the cooperative was building for the future. Its interest in Grays Harbor wasn’t just about price; the decision was driven by a sound business strategy.”
The partnership between AGP and PGH resulted in the construction of a railcar unloading trans-load facility at Terminal 2, one of the port’s four shipping terminals. The loading terminal emphasized identity preservation (IP) to ensure Midwestern bulk agricultural products would remain isolated to meet the needs of IP-sensitive markets.
Despite the successes of the 60,000-bushel/hour rail-to-ship loading capacity, the AGP/PGH model posed challenges with rail traffic and ship schedules. Taking note of the facility modifications being made by local grain houses, AGP/PGH decided it was time to take the next step: permanent storage.
“The original site was a great learning experience for all parties involved,” Nelson says, “but we knew we needed to build a facility that could offer customers flexibility and efficiencies not available anywhere else in the Northwest. We went back to the drawing board and came up with the new site built to handle and store meal products and whole grains.”
The majority of port facilities emphasize speed and volume, but are only capable of loading homogenous commodities, which requires export vessels to call on multiple facilities to acquire various commodities. AGP/PGH set out to create a facility to allow the load-out of three or four different products in one port load.
Designing a flexible port
AGP/PGH hired contractor Todd & Sargent to design and build its new storage facility on the 13.5 acres of available space surrounding the original site. Construction on the $60-million expansion began in 2010. The new elevator features eight 350,000-bushel slip form concrete storage silos and four 80,000 shipping bins.
AGP/PGH relies on the Puget Sound and Pacific (PSAP) railroad’s service to receive the commodities produced by AGP member-owners. The railroad, a division of RailAmerica, interchanges with the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads. Recently, in a partnership with the state government, Washington Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) and private industry, PGH installed an additional loop track to aid in handling the volume of rail traffic making its way through the port. With 37,000 feet of new track and a multitrack rail yard, PGH now has 55,000 feet of on-dock rail in the marine terminal.