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County buys rail spur land

Spokane County has purchased one of the two large properties needed for construction of the Geiger Rail Spur and has an agreement to buy the other, Operations Director Gerry Gemmill said Thursday.

Negotiations for a third “sliver” continue, he said, but the agreements in hand will let the county take bids for building the four miles of new rail that will connect industry in Airway Heights with a spur of the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad. The existing spur crosses Fairchild Air Force Base and must be removed for security reasons and to make room for a new Army Reserve center.

Encroachment on the base perimeter and the potential threat to about 400 good-paying industrial jobs has made spur reconfiguration a priority for the county. But haggling over how much land was needed and how much should be paid for it have delayed the $7 million project by several months.

Two land parcels were 255 acres owned by the Carstens Co. and 150 acres owned by Northwest Industrial Services.

Carstens Co. President Pete Carstens said in December he would be a willing seller if the county would rezone his entire 315-acre tract back to light industrial, its designation prior to 2004. The county complied, and Carstens received $2.6 million for his 255 acres.

Northwest Industrial has agreed to take $600,000 for its property, which abuts Fairchild’s eastern boundary.

The company, which had operated a gravel pit on the property, will also be allowed to remove stockpiled material and its scales.

Gemmill said the county has asked for state money to help pay for the Northwest tract under a program intended to make sure development does not impede military base operations or expansion.

Commissioner Todd Mielke said this week that the Air Force will also help with the cost.

He said he expects the sliver to cost about $30,000, but the spur could be routed around it if necessary. Construction could be completed by fall, he said.

The Palouse River and Coulee City line connects with BNSF Railway Co. track at Cheney.