City OKs $38,000 payment toward BNSF Railway certification of 335 acres in Willmar Industrial Park


— The local economic development director hopes to complete the

BNSF Railway

certification of 335 acres in the

Willmar Industrial Park

in six months instead of a year.


Willmar City Council

this week approved payment of $38,021 in associated costs with becoming a

BNSF Railway certified site

. The acreage includes the site of the Midwest & Bluegrass Rail development planned on 145 acres.

"This (certification) process usually takes about one year to complete with BNSF. I want to get it done in six months, and I want to get it done this summer," said Aaron Backman, executive director of the

Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission

, speaking at Monday's council meeting. "I think it is doable. I'd have to push a few people, but I think I would like to finish at a faster clip."

According to the certification program description, BNSF identifies optimal rail-served sites and conducts in-depth reviews of economic development criteria to determine if a site meets stringent readiness standards, which are intended to minimize development risks customers may face.

Backman received four quotes for services related to the certification process and one invoice for work that has already been completed. Quotes include $12,575 from Braun Intertec for a geotechnical evaluation and soil borings; $7,500 from Bonnema Runke Stern for an American Land Title Association survey; $2,850 from Glacial Lakes Environmental Consulting for a Phase I Assessment; and, $12,900 from Kandiyohi Abstract for Title Commitment. The invoice is for $2,196 from Bonnema Runke Stern for Rail Park Survey Easements.

"BNSF site certification creates value for business prospects and site selectors and so forth, who are seeking a rail-served industrial site, by accelerating the process required for economic development," Backman told the council. "The customer who builds a new rail-serve facility at one of these sites is expected to save six to nine months of time as a result of this program."

He reminded the council about the process of Willmar Industrial Park's Fourth Addition — the area west of County Road 5 and north of state Highway 40 — becoming a

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development certified "shovel-ready" site

in 2016, which cost $13,160 and Backman's time.

"I think that effort was well worth it, given FedEx, Magnum Trucking and other projects that are there now. BNSF certification is more selective," he said, noting there are only BNSF-certified sites in North America. Some states have no certified sites, and Minnesota has only one other certified site in Becker.

"I have done a recent analysis of all 33 of those sites, getting information on every single one of them. I've even ranked them, from my standpoint," Backman added. "I believe we stack up well against those other communities in terms of infrastructure, site configuration, site acreage, potential prospects, targeted industries, etc., etc."

He noted that the BNSF certification process is much more in-depth than the DEED certification process, and he is working to answer 391 "rather intense" questions.