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Presho rail project gets boost

PIERRE -- The plan to rebuild the old rail line between Oacoma and Presho received a big boost from legislators Friday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee endorsed Sen. Mike Vehle's legislation that would provide $6 million in state funding for the project.

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The 9-0 vote came despite objections from an aide to Gov. Dennis Daugaard and an analyst for the governor's budget office.

Next stop for SB 137 is the full Senate on Tuesday.

Wheat Growers Chief Executive Officer Dale Locken said his company is ready to build a grain-loading facility and a fertilizer-distribution center at Presho if the line is rehabilitated.

The governor has already committed support for rebuilding the bridge over the Missouri River between Chamberlain and Oacoma.

Vehle, R-Mitchell, said steel-rail prices are down 25 percent and now is the time to bring the line west of Oacoma up to modern standards.

"This is a start. We've got to get started somewhere," Vehle told the committee. "This is probably a two-year project to get this going."

Several witnesses testified they expect a variety of agricultural businesses to locate along the line.

A grain and fertilizer hub near Kimball resulted from the line's restoration west from Mitchell.

Governor's aide Matt Konenkamp said a study of South Dakota's railroad opportunities and needs is under way.

"I believe six months time will not scare those companies off from building there," Konenkamp said.

Vehle, who managed grain elevators along the line for the late George Shanard of Mitchell, said the Wheat Growers' interest convinced him that the project will work.

"That's a study for me," Vehle said.

The legislation, because it appropriates money for a specific project, will need a two-thirds majority in each of the Senate and the House.