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June 22, 2018 4:45 PM, EDT

N.Y. Proposes Grant of Up to $21 Million for Inland Port

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — State transportation officials have agreed to provide up to $21 million to transform the DeWitt rail yard owned by CSX Corp. into an intermodal cargo facility to ship containers to and from ocean ports.

A proposed grant from the Department of Transportation to CSX has been submitted to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for review, according to the comptroller’s office. The comptroller must sign off on the deal before the project can move forward.

The long-awaited project is the culmination of efforts to bring an inland port to Central New York, an initiative that has sparked controversy at times between state and local economic development officials.

The DOT project would expand the existing DeWitt rail yard so that 30,000 containers a year can be sent by rail between Central New York and ships at the Port of New York/New Jersey. The target completion date is December 2019, according to the grant proposal.

The project would add a large paved area to store shipping containers, plus two portable lifts to move containers between trucks and rail cars, DOT officials said in December, shortly after they began negotiations with CSX.

The new facility is expected to lower shipping costs by up to $500 per container, boosting local agriculture and other export-heavy business sectors.

The project is less ambitious than the inland port proposed in 2015 by the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council.

That proposal — a $100 million rail hub surrounded by warehouses and light manufacturing — was part of the “CNY Rising” plan that won $500 million in state money for economic development. The project was expected to create up to 2,000 new jobs, according to the Regional Economic Development Council.

Some local officials, including Assemblyman Al Stirpe and CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson, criticized state officials last year for choosing the DeWitt site, which is hemmed in by wetlands and has less land available for development.

But state officials concluded that an inland port project was unlikely to succeed at either of two alternative sites identified by the REDC in Jamesville and Camillus. A study commissioned by DOT said the DeWitt rail yard was the “only viable site.”

Money for the project will come out of $40 million the state legislature budgeted in 2015 to enhance rail connections in Central New York, DOT officials have said.

The proposed grant calls for CSX to be reimbursed up to $19 million for the rail yard improvements, said Kate Gurnett, the comptroller’s press secretary. The amount can be increased to $21 million “if appropriate,” according to the grant proposal.

State transportation officials declined to comment on details of the plan.

“The state is currently reviewing the terms and conditions of the project framework to ensure the best value to the public and enhanced economic competitiveness for the region,” said DOT spokesman Joe Morrissey. “This is considered an open procurement and as such we cannot comment further at this time.”

The state’s investment in the DeWitt project is a victory for 3Gi CNYIP, a Syracuse company that controls about 200 acres of land near the CSX yard. Company officials, who advocated for the DeWitt site for years, have said they plan to build and operate specialized warehousing to support the inland port.

The DeWitt rail yard, just east of Interstate 481, straddles the border between DeWitt and Manlius.