Officials eye site for railcar expansion

Published 9:00 pm Tuesday, November 13, 2012

With a company in the railroad business eyeing an expansion into Brookhaven, new jobs could be rolling into the area.

     American Railcar Industries expects to locate a new railcar repair facility in Brookhaven, with work on the facility hoped to begin sometime next year.

     “We’re excited about it,” said Mayor Les Bumgarner. “It could turn out to be even bigger in the future. The rail business is booming.”

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     ARI already has a presence in Bude, but a local chamber of commerce official working closely with the company said a Brookhaven plant poses no threat to that Franklin County facility.

     “Their intention is not to replace the existing plant in Bude but to have a second facility to accommodate more business,” said Cliff Brumfield, executive vice president of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce.

     The exact number of jobs a new railcar facility could bring to Brookhaven remains unclear, said Brumfield, but Bumgarner hopes for 25 to 40 jobs.

     “I think that will be a big help,” Bumgarner said of the impact on the local economy.

     Though the ARI plant may attract new workers into the area, the new jobs will also provide opportunities for local workers, Brumfield said.

     “There is a qualified job base for this work here in Lincoln County,” Brumfield said.

     The chamber leader hopes the onset of construction could be somewhat near, but cautioned patience.

     “It’s still not in the fast-paced stage,” Brumfield said. “We would expect some activity to begin in 2013.”

     Finalizing a site for the new facility remains the most significant hurdle officials must clear. Current plans call for the facility to move onto a 21-acre site on Industrial Park Road that formerly housed the Homelite South building.

     The property is privately owned, having been sold at auction in 2008. The Homelite building was demolished in 2008 and later sold as scrap metal.

     Right now, approval by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for use of the property remains pending because the property has been deemed a wetlands area.

     “They look at every piece of property to give it approval or not,” Bumgarner said. “They’re the ones that get to call it and that’s what they’re calling it.”

     Finding a location for the new facility has proved elusive. Bumgarner said the current location is the fourth site that has been considered.

     “Hopefully this time, the fourth time is the charm,” Bumgarner said.

     Bumgarner and Brumfield both expressed optimism the wetlands designation won’t be a problem.

     “We really feel good about this location,” Bumgarner said.

     Any site that’s selected will require some construction to be usable. A spur rail line will be required to move railcars from the main CN line to the ARI facility.

     However, Brumfield doesn’t foresee major additions as likely.

     “Being that several sites under consideration are immediately on the main line, the amount of track is minimal,” Brumfield said.

     This is a project that’s been a long time coming. The local chamber of commerce, city of Brookhaven and the Mississippi Development authority have been working on the project about two years, Brumfield said.

     These officials are ready to see results.

     “We would just like to get this thing approved,” Bumgarner said.