Construction on an integral piece of infrastructure for the fledgling Port of Inola will begin soon.
The City of Tulsa-Rogers County Port Authority recently awarded a $15.768 million contract to Chicago-based Ragnar Benson LLC to build about 4.4 miles of new rail at the Port of Inola, according to Andrew Ralston, who heads economic development at Tulsa Ports (Catoosa and Inola).
The track will connect the Union Pacific main line to the Port of Inola and Sofidel, a company that in 2020 began operations in a $360 million facility that manufactures tissue. In 2019, Public Service Company of Oklahoma entrusted Tulsa Ports with the future development of the Inola industrial site through a land transfer of about 2,000 acres.
“The Port of Inola currently is just a large collection of industrial land,” Ralston said. “The infrastructure that we bring into it is what makes it a suitable industrial site. So, right now, we just have road access.
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“This next step is for rail access. In the future, as we get waterway users, we will renovate the barge slip and the waterway access. This is a critical part of building an inland port.”
Site work for the rail project is set to begin in February, with construction to be mostly completed by December 2023, Ralston said. The Port Authority will pay $382,100 to the Kansas City, Missouri-based firm of Burns & McDonnell to oversee construction and conduct materials testing on the project.
Sofidel is contributing $1.5 million in matching funds toward the endeavor, which also is getting $6.1 million in the form of a U.S. Department of Transportation Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant.
“They’ve always wanted rail access,” Ralston said of Sofidel, whose plant encompasses 1.8 million square feet. “It was not something they wanted to do immediately when they built the facility. But it became necessary as they grew to look at having other transportation options for the pulp that they’re bringing in, as well as the parent reels that they are shipping out to other facilities to be converted.”
The manufacturing facility in Inola incorporates both a paper mill — where pulp is transformed into paper — and a converting plant, which produces the finished product.
Jose Zarandona is site operations manager.
“This improvement, first it will help to develop this industrial park. And, at the same, it will … attract more industries to this region of Oklahoma,” he wrote in an email. “For Sofidel, this new line will help us to bring raw material from several ports in the south (United States), mainly in Texas. And, we could dispatch parent reels to some of our operations in other states.”
The rail also satisfies a company goal reducing the impact on the environment, Zarandona said. Moving freight by train instead of truck cuts greenhouse emissions by up to 75%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The companies that we’re recruiting now, the vast majority are rail users,” Ralston said. “Not having that rail spur and that industrial lead track renovated and operable is seen as a hindrance to speed-to-market for those companies. So, getting this project started is a huge trigger for them to see our site as ready to go and meet their deadlines.”
Photos: Take a look inside the Sofidel paper manufacturing plant in Inola