Merced County Times Newspaper
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Castle talks offer hints of possible new development

Merced County leaders are pursuing a 20-year lease agreement for about 6,500 feet of existing rail track and an acre of “associated property” at the southwest corner of the Castle Commerce Center, according to a published legal document.

One company that has been named in related negotiations is Foster Townsend Rail Logistics, LLC. According to an online company profile, Foster Townsend Rail Logistics is a national rail services company based in St. Louis that provides “rail switching and rail management, mobile railcar repairs, and rail consulting.”

Though the size and scope of this particular lease appears to be relatively modest, there has been speculation in recent months that the county is trying to turn the corner with a stated goal to create a distribution hub at Castle by utilizing existing rail lines near the industrial site, and connecting manufacturing and cargo transportation to major ports and destinations in Southern California and the Bay Area.

Think of Castle as an “inland port,” if you will.

A public hearing to consider the potential lease — which remains open to offers — is set for this Tuesday, Feb. 8, during the regular meeting of the Merced County Board of Supervisors that starts at 10 a.m.

So far, few details have been revealed concerning the lease, and other matters that have been speculated on in recent months, including the topics of a new rail yard operator and/or a new distribution center at Castle.

When asked about new developments, one Times source in county government said upcoming board considerations “have the potential of being exciting news for the community;” however, the person would not go on the record with details at this time.

Supervisors met in closed session for about an hour Tuesday morning before their regular scheduled meeting. On the agenda was the rail facility lease negotiation. The county’s Economic Development Director Mark Hendrickson was listed as the Agency Negotiator.

There was no report out of closed session. Board Chairman Lloyd Pareira just acknowledged the meeting, and said “staff was given direction.”

It’s been four years since Castle made headlines after a memorandum of agreement between Merced County and the Port of Los Angeles that called for a joint business development plan.

The international trade plan aimed to turn Castle into a hub for manufacturers, providing the L.A. port with a Central California focal point for the movement of goods via the BNSF Railway. In addition, the rail transport idea as it relates to Castle was praised for its potential to perhaps reduce pollution levels, as opposed to solely relying on trucking alternatives.
“This agreement has the potential to expand local participation in the movement of goods not only statewide, but also nationally and globally,” Hendrickson said at the time.
And, of course, bringing jobs to the region was also touted as the most important aspect of new development at Castle.

During a presentation also on Tuesday, officials from the county’s Workforce Investment agency noted that the Dec. 21 unemployment rate in the county was listed at 8.2 percent, with about 2,400 jobs away from 2019 levels when the rate was at 6 percent.

In a late October commentary, Times publisher John Derby made a call for Merced County Board of Supervisors to bring recent Castle discussions to light as soon as possible.

“It’s too important of a subject to leave local residents and community stakeholders in the dark,” he wrote.

Perhaps, the upcoming meeting on Tuesday will reveal another cornerstone in the development of Castle, the former Air Force Base.

Stay tuned.

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