Commissioners talk future joint use rail facility, Cove economic development project
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Monday’s meeting marked County Judge John Firth’s last official meeting overseeing the Coryell County Commissioners’ Court and was full of discussion of the future of Coryell County.
Firth provided an update regarding the Fort Hood Joint Use Multimodal Rail/Truck Facility Feasibility Study, which was commissioned to determine the feasibility of such a facility to accommodate Fort Hood’s needs during a military surge conditions as well as meeting private sector/commercial needs.
CPCS Transcom Inc. completed and submitted the draft of the final study earlier this month and presented the draft at the Steering Committee meeting and the meeting with the Fort Hood Garrison Commander and staff last week, where it was well-received, according to Firth.
The proposed potential location is a site north of the current Fort Hood railhead, east of Route 9 and south of Tank Destroyer Blvd, which could provide direct rail network access, has truck connectivity via Tank Destroyer, provides direct access to the existing Fort Hood facility and is of the size and configuration to meet rail and truck processing needs for Fort Hood and regional multimodal freight shippers.
Currently, commercial traffic must enter Fort Hood through the security checkpoint located on Clark Rd, and traffic often backs up out to Clear Creek Rd, Firth said.
Fort Hood and the Department of Defense definitely want this project to happen, as shown by the DoD funding 90 percent of the study, Firth said.
“The real question’s always been, ‘Is this feasible from the standpoint of the commercial side of the house, joint use?’” Firth said.
The draft of the study showed that it is believed to be feasible enough to start out with implementing the startup option which would entail putting two rail lines north of the current rail yard to be used for commercial use, Firth said. In the event of a surge capacity situation, those two rail lines would revert back to being used by the military.
It was determined that there is no comparable facility to do this kind of commercial material transfer between the Alliance Complex, north of Fort Worth, all the way down to the south side of San Antonio, in Bexar County. Temple’s rail yard does not have the capacity that would allow large sideload and truck transfer facilities, Firth said.
The study determined that the bulk of the cost of building the facility would go towards clearing and grading the site, costing an estimated $21.5 million.
Firth shared that because the project will be on Fort Hood, and Army regulations allow for engineer units to do projects that could be justified as viable training, there is a possibility that Fort Hood soldiers in engineer units could do the clearing and grading work and significantly drive down the cost.
Additionally, because the speed of the trains through the railyard will be low-speed, there are inexpensive ways to support that movement compared to if they were high-speed, Firth said.
From a local economic development standpoint, where Killeen, Copperas Cove and even Lampasas were all involved, the study means good things.
“The big thing for EDCs and local communities isn’t trucks coming in or coming out and the transload, although you need that revenue to support the operations,” Firth said. “The real benefit to the local communities is what it will in fact generate in terms of interest from manufacturing and distribution companies coming to Central Texas.”
The facility, should it actually be built, would be a huge incentive for companies to move in to the Central Texas area, he added.
“I am hopeful that this really is something unique that very few places in Texas have this type of capacity and it can be extremely beneficial,” Firth said.
One such company excited about the possibility of a railhead so close by is looking into the possibility of coming to Copperas Cove and bringing with them a manufacturing facility and their corporate headquarters. The Commissioners approved a resolution supporting possible tax incentives for the company from California should they choose Copperas Cove as their new home.
The company has not revealed their name to the press but Firth referred to this opportunity as “Project Etch”. The company is a manufacturer of photoresist films for etching and engraving materials such as glass, wood, stone and metals.
The company previously considered moving to Copperas Cove back in 2015 before changing their mind, but due to a myriad of reasons, they have decided to look at Copperas Cove again, as well as Abilene.
The company is considering building a 50,000-square-foot building and spending an estimated $8 million on the facility. They expect to hire 83 workers within four years, with an average salary of $35,314.
The company is currently in discussions with the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation, who previously tentatively offered an advance per employee and money to move.
Firth said that the resolution would show the company that the county is willing to work with them and hopefully entice them to select Coryell County.
“I’m hoping that with everything that’s coming together that they’re going to realize some real opportunities to grow jobs and long term grow the tax base,” Firth said.
The Commissioners also voted to appoint incoming County Judge Roger Miller to be the Coryell County representative for the Killeen Temple Metropolitan Planning Organization and for the Hill Country Transit District beginning January 1, 2019.
Due to recent rains, the Commissioners took no action regarding a burn ban and subsequently, no action regarding an order regulating certain fireworks in the unincorporated areas of the county for the December/January fireworks period.