Parsons city commissioners on Monday had some questions about the transportation of wind turbine parts from the Great Plains Industrial Park to a nearby future wind farm.
Brad Reams, Great Plains director, gave the commissioners a brief update on developments at the park during a regular meeting.
Reams said the park planned on Tuesday to lead an inspection of a railroad and bridge rehabilitation project, which was completed in just seven weeks in preparation of a company locating at Great Plains. The work was done under a $1.8 million Kansas Department of Transportation grant. The park only had to match 7%, which Reams said is extremely rare. It included about 75% rehabilitation of the 26 miles of rail inside the park, which is the former location of the Kansas Army Ammunition Plant. It also entailed a reconstruction of one bridge and a partial rebuild of another.
Great Plains received the grant through a KDOT economic development fund to prepare the park as a host to a wind energy component distributor. A crane arrived this week for a new laydown yard that will be built just east of the Great Plains office facility. TP&L, which operates the largest laydown yard in North America in Garden City, is building the laydown yard at Great Plains.
Reams said TP&L will receive the turbine blades for the Neosho Ridge Wind project in Neosho County and then haul them by truck to the turbine sites. The company also will truck parts to a wind farm in Missouri, and Reams said TP&L hopes to expand on its operations at Great Plains. The initial laydown area will cover 20 acres, but TP&L already is taking core samples with an eye on extending to the east.
“They started with 10 acres in Garden City, and now they’re over 700,” Reams said.
The first train will deliver parts on Feb. 10, and Reams said that will be the first time the park has had a lot of loaded rail cars in about 40 years. The parts won’t leave the park until about April. The first components will go to serve the wind farm in Missouri, and then TP&L will begin sending parts to Neosho County.
“So there’s about 33 weeks worth of work right now on that group, but they’re always bidding on other projects,” Reams said.
The Jayhawk Wind project would make a lot of sense for TP&L to service because it’s being developed by Apex Wind Energy, the same company building Neosho Ridge Wind.
Reams said KDOT is happy with keeping as many trucks off the road as possible, so that is why the agency supports the rail project. TP&L will be able to unload a train in one day, sometimes two. The Union Pacific Railroad will deliver cars on the south end of the park, hand them off to Progress Rail, which will unload them and then push the cars back out.
Commissioner Tom Shaw said while the rail upgrade was great, he wondered about the roads on which the loaded trucks will travel as they leave the park. Reams said the trucks will get to U.S. 400 pretty quickly, leaving the park north and turning east on 24000 Road. He said the road is great, but the manufacturers have a pot of money devoted to road upgrades or rehabilitation when needed.
Shaw also talked about the traffic tie-ups at U.S. 400 and U.S. 59 as drivers delivering parts to another wind farm tried to navigate the turn while law enforcement agencies had to block traffic. He asked how many blades per day would move through the intersection, but Reams didn’t know. Reams said in speaking with KDOT, the agency has approved the trucks to use mainly U.S. 400 and U.S. 59. There will be 139 turbines with three blades each at Neosho Ridge Wind, leading to 417 truck loads moving through the junction.
“That will be interesting. Progress comes with a price,” Shaw said.
Mayor Jeff Perez asked if KDOT would consider additional funding along the route, at least at the turning points. Reams said there were nine organizations involved on a conference call with KDOT to talk about the route. Another call will involve 12 organizations to iron out further details. That would be the time for the city to give its input.
City Manager Debbie Lamb said KDOT is well aware of the traffic issues the city had, and the city should learn about timelines during the second call and if there is additional work that can be done on the off ramp to make it easier for the drivers to make the turn. The call is scheduled for March 4.
“I think that because KDOT and the state is obviously expediting the process to accommodate wind development in Southeast Kansas then we really should look to them for some funding to make traffic get out of that area faster so people can get to and from places they’re going up north of town and so it benefits us and doesn’t tie up our police department and emergency services,” Shaw said.
Lamb said Police Chief Robert Spinks also will be included on the conference call.
“This one seems to be much more organized than what we’ve run into before,” Lamb said.
Reams said the company also is looking into turbine decommissioning opportunities. The windmills that went up 10 to 15 years ago are starting to be repowered with newer technology. TP&L could take new blades to wind farms and then on the return trip bring back old blades.
“It makes a lot of sense to go load-load in the logistics world,” Reams said.
The carbon-fiber blades could be shredded and pelletized, Reams said. In the Southeast, boards made out of the carbon fiber are better suited to the humid climate than regular fiber boards.
Also on Monday, Reams said Great Plains is looking to upgrade its agricultural leases and find clients who can use some of the buildings for warehousing. The park has 14 warehouses with 22,000 square of feet of space and rail access.
“Not everybody in America can say that, but you have to go out and sell those opportunities, so we’re looking at how we can do some flexible warehousing,” Reams said.
Great Plains is looking for local and regional businesses that may need warehouse space.
As for potential manufacturers, Jim Zaleski, Parsons economic development director, has a couple of leads from a recent industry show, and Reams said he and Zaleski will work on those.
The park also has some potential for green energy, and Reams expects to issue a request for proposals for solar development soon.
“I have about three or four businesses in that area that I’ve already had conversations with just to kind of test the water and see if we would be attractive or not,” Reams said.
In the far northeastern corner of the park, 2,000 acres were designated for solar development before Reams arrived. It would be difficult to run water and sewer lines to the area, so it wouldn’t make an ideal location for a manufacturer. That’s why Great Plains is looking to see if more value in the land could be made by using it as a solar farm than for haying or grazing. Reams said Great Plains would like to work with a group that also could put in some wind turbines.
“Obviously we wouldn’t be a huge site for wind, but there’s some capabilities there,” he said.
Biodiesel development also is a possibility at the park, Reams said.
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