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NC Ports board approves $5 million for wood pellet-handling facility design

The N.C. State Ports Authority board voted Thursday to spend up to $5 million for the design of a wood pellet-handling facility at the Port of Morehead City.

A similar facility is planned for the Port of Wilmington, and requests for proposals for that work will go out in four to six weeks, said Thomas W. Bradshaw, executive director of the Ports Authority.

The board of directors voted to award the contract to design and build the facility to low bidder Barnhill Contracting Co. for up to $41.5 million.

The next step "is to tie down the actual price," Bradshaw said, then execute the contracts and go to the public debt market early next year for the money.

It's possible by that time the authority will know the price tag for the Wilmington facility and could finance the projects together, Bradshaw said. That could total $100 million to $120 million, he said.

The authority can borrow the $5 million, Bradshaw said, but it hopes the state-owned N.C. Railroad Co. will provide the money.

That body could declare a dividend and give the money to the Department of Transportation, which would then hand it over to the Ports Authority for the design phase, Bradshaw said.

Last month, however, the Railroad Co.'s board of directors voted not to give the Ports Authority money to secure financing of the facilities. The authority and commerce officials had asked the Railroad Co. for $70 million over 10 years.

The pellet facilities would receive, store and transfer wood pellets to ships for transport to Europe, where they are used by utility companies as fuel in energy production.

Ports officials have said the two pellet facilities would be the most expensive infrastructure project ever at the ports. State officials have said they hoped the Morehead City facility would be shipping wood pellets to Europe by early 2014 with the Wilmington facility not far behind.

The Morehead City facility is planned for four storage domes, but in Wilmington that could total four to six, Bradshaw said.

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