StateLine wins break for project

BLUE EARTH – StateLine Cooperative of Burt, Iowa, cleared its first hurdle for a proposed grain facility to be built near Guckeen.

Company CEO Larry Sterk and chief financial officer David Edge spoke at a public hearing Tuesday as Faribault County commissioners asked questions of the duo.

In the end, commissioners unanimously approved a 12-year property tax abatement for the facility, which will cost $7 million and have a 1.7-million bushel capacity. StateLine plans to build it on 30 acres along County Road 16, a couple miles east of Guckeen. The abatement covers the county portion of property taxes, beginning in 2016.

The next step in the process is a conditional use permit hearing June 11 at the Ag Center.

Sterk isn’t letting grass grow under his feet.

“I’d like to move dirt in July or August,” he said. “Get the infrastructure done before winter so we can work through winter.”

Sterk said the idea to build a grain facility was proposed by StateLine’s board after WFS shut down its facility in Blue Earth and its Northrop elevator earlier this year. Sterk said StateLine met with local farmers in a 12-mile radius to see how their needs were being met.

Commissioners wanted to know what operations the facility will feature, and also discussed how to determine what economic development projects will be considered for tax abatements in the future.

“Farmers will have all the options at this site they have at any other site [including storage],” Sterk said, but he added that some might not be included in Phase 1.

Commissioner Greg Young wanted to know why StateLine chose County Road 16.

“We needed a road not typically [limited by seasonal load limits],” Sterk said.

That narrowed things to County Road 16 and County Road 1, and the company wanted the option of accessing rail lines in the future. County Road 16 runs parallel to rail lines at the proposed location.

“We wanted to get out in the country; there will be a certain amount of dust,” Sterk noted.

He also referred to the study of farmers in the 12-mile radius.

“Not a lot of market opportunities except Guckeen,” he said.

StateLine invited farmers to tell the firm what they want.

“Typically, we get a handful of people,” Sterk said of other similar gatherings. “We got over 60 farmers to take time out and attend the meeting.”

Commissioner Tom Warmka, a farmer himself, acknowledged that farmers don’t have time to wait in long lines during harvest season, but that’s happening more often right now.

“A lot of talk is about replacing the facility that was here. This facility will be located on a 10-ton road,” said Commissioner Bill Groskreutz, concerned about damage the heavy traffic will do and how expensive it will be to maintain the road.

Commissioner Tom Loveall asked about the county’s policy on approving tax abatements.

“Going to policy, we need to understand when we are not going to do this,” he said.

Warmka said abatements are not needed for every little project and suggested reserving them for the large ones.

“Not so much a dollar amount, but the magnitude of the project and significant public benefit, and benefit to the land,” Loveall said. “Those are the logical reasons.”

The board can set its own criteria on projects for commissioners to consider, said Linsey Warmka, director of the Faribault County Development Corporation.

“They have to come in in advance, as these gentlemen have,” Commissioner Bill Groskreutz said.

“I’d like to lean toward examining each project,” Young said.

In conclusion, commissioners said StateLine’s facility would mean less traffic in town and along Highway 169 – a good thing given construction on that road coming soon.

“Sixteen’s probably the best road after that,” Young said.