One of the nation’s largest grain marketing companies is interested in a small sliver of Barton County for its newest facility. Following the approval Monday morning by the Barton County Commission of a rezoning request, that facility is step closer to reality.
Kansas City, Mo.-based Bartlett Grain Company LP wants to build a five-silo and office/shop complex between Great Bend and Ellinwood. The location is ideal because of its proximity to both the railroad and a major highway, company officials told commissioners.
The area to be rezoned is a shade over 100 acres and is located at 550 E. U.S. 56 in the Great Bend Township. It is framed on the north by U.S. 56, the south by East Barton County Road, the east by SE 60 Avenue (location of the Dartmouth elevator owned by Pawnee Valley Coop) and the west by SE 50 Avenue (the location of Little Giant Fittings).
“We explored the map,” said Bartlett Grain’s Bill Webster. They liked what they saw in Barton County.
The land, owned by Kyle and Bonnie Schartz, is farm ground now. But, the Schartz want to sell it to Bartlett Grain and requested the change so it had to be reclassified for light manufacturing and commercial use.
However, Bartlett’s Bill Webster said their structures will only occupy about four acres in the center of the tract. Most of the balance will remain in agricultural production “by the current ownership for the foreseeable future.”
Webster said the company plans on investing about $20 million in the plant. The annual payroll would likely be around $700,000 and they hope to hire from the area.
There are a couple factors that make the expansion attractive, Webster said. The first is the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. “It opened the borders. Kansas is a beneficiary of that.”
The second is the acquisition by Bartlett of Farmland Industries holdings south of the border. Bartlett is the largest grain-by-rail exporter to Mexico in the country and now they have a “continuity of reach from the heartland to Mexico.”
With facilities from Colorado to Kansas City, Webster said Bartlett has sites in Salina and Wichita. So, Barton County was a good fit.
The increased rail traffic generated by Bartlett will also help sustain the railroad that serves the area, Webster said.
But, even though the request came with an unanimous blessing from the Barton County Planning Commission, there were still questions that needed to be answered, said Barton County Environmental Manager Judy Goreham.
She had to take into consideration the current and planned use of the property, the impact on the area and surrounding landowners, the fact that all the land falls within the flood plain, how the new use would fit into the county’s comprehensive plan, health and safety, and is the needed infrastructure such as sewers available.
In the end, “my concerns have been addressed,” Goreham said. Even with the change, the property will still be used for ag-based business, which fits in nicely with the county’s long-term planning.
Some were worried about the increase of traffic between Great Bend and Ellinwood. Bartlett is talking with the Kansas Department of Transportation about wider shoulders and a turning lane.
Also, the larger 110-car trains that will support the facility will be coming from and going to the east. Although, there may be some increased smaller train traffic in Great Bend.
The railroad company that used the line, Watco, may make alterations as well.
As for the flood plain issues, Bartlett has hired a local engineering firm to solve the problem, Goreham said. The structures will be elevated, but not alter the flow of water.
This will be a grain handling/storage facility only, Webster said, adding it will have about a 3 million bushel capacity. There will be no processing or production.
The rezoning is contingent upon the sale of the property. If it goes through, Bartlett is bound to abide by its proposal.
They hope to have the facility up and running by next year.
Great Bend Coop General Manager Frank Riedl was present for the meeting as an interested party and was asked his thoughts. “We just want an even playing field. We hate it when competition comes to town, but it is good for the people.”
He did stress that Great Bend Coop has invested $10 million in Barton County in the past decade.
County Administrator Richard Boeckman said Bartlett has not requested any economic development support from the county.
On June 10, the Barton County Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the commission approve change.
Bartlett Grain is part of Bartlett International and has been in business since 1907. It also has other ag-related holdings, including milling.