Federal grant boosts $31 million ag export facility planned at Port Milwaukee

Port Milwaukee director Adam Schlicht
Port Milwaukee director Adam Schlicht

Last updated on February 13th, 2020 at 03:24 pm

Port Milwaukee and Clinton, Wisconsin-based The DeLong Co. plan to establish a $31.4 million agricultural product export facility on the west side of Jones Island.

A $15.9 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration will help fund the project, officials announced Thursday.

Additional funding includes $4.3 million from the port, $6.3 million from DeLong and $4.9 million from a potential Wisconsin Department of Transportation grant. Additional funding options are in place if the state DOT grant is not awarded to the project.

“This investment adds a new dimension to Port Milwaukee’s role as a connector of Wisconsin’s businesses and farmers to world markets,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. “Waterborne commerce is what established Milwaukee and fueled its growth. The port’s new agricultural export facility will serve regional customers for decades to come, and we are very appreciative of the federal government’s partnership.”

Port director Adam Schlicht said to his knowledge the project is the largest one-time investment in the port since the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959.

Schlicht praised the variety of partners who lent their support to the port’s application for the federal grant. That group included U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, and U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, along with longtime port users and tenants like Federal Marine Terminals, Fednav Limited and Canada Steamship Lines.

He said “visionary support” from Baldwin and Barrett was particularly important for the project.

The facility is being designed to accept a variety of agricultural products including soybeans and corn via truck and railroad. DeLong’s focus will be on dried distillers grain, a byproduct of ethanol production used as an animal feed supplement. The company plans to export around $40 million of DDG annually once the facility is fully operational.

The project schedule in the port’s grant application calls for an existing, out-of-date building on the site to be demolished in summer 2021. Schlicht said the building that will be demolished has not been used for freight handling in at least 10 years.

Installation and construction of the facility would then take place from August 2021 through June 2023.

Adding the new capabilities at the port would address a challenge ethanol producers in Wisconsin face. Six of the nine plants in the state currently have to drive past Milwaukee and the port to take DDG to the logistics park in Joliet, Illinois. Producers in southern Minnesota and north central Iowa also face a similar dilemma.

Roughly $5.6 million in rail upgrades at the port and the new bulk transfer capabilities would allow producers outside 150 miles to transport DDG to Port Milwaukee instead of Joliet. The port estimates the project would take around 1,600 trucks off the road.

Schlicht said the project is the result of work between DeLong and Port Milwaukee to examine potential investments at the port along with potential opportunities in international export markets.

“It’s been a true partnership from the onset,” he said.

Port Milwaukee has been working in recent years to bring intermodal container service back to Milwaukee after it left in 2012. Schlicht said there is a connection with the new agricultural export facility – bulk shipping would offer an alternative to sometimes hard to get containers – the push for intermodal service is separate from the project.

“I believe this is going to be yet another catalyst and bellwether for the port’s desire to reinstate an intermodal service here as well,” he said.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.