Thursday, April 21, 2016

Shabbona Residents join together to address concerns about proposed railroad

Great Lakes RR's proposed route goes through Indian Reserve.


Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on the proposed Great Lake Basin Railroad project.
MORRIS – A proposed railroad line that would cut through prime farmland in Grundy County would, if built as recommended, also go through land that was deeded in the 1800s to the chief of the Potawatomi.
The route of the proposed privately funded $8 billion Great Lakes Basin Railroad has the line crossing the Illinois River from Erienna Township landing in a unpopulated grove of trees before it continues on toward Mazon.
“Where it is coming across the river is 20 acres of land that is called the Shabbona Reservation on the plat map,” Norman Township Supervisor Art Kleinfeldt said.
Kleinfeldt, a nearby resident to the historical reservation, said he doesn’t believe the railroad can or should be allowed to take property owned by the descendants of Shabbona.
A handwritten deed filed for record in September 1854, five years before Shabbona died, is included in the Grundy County tax assessor’s office file on the property. The deed states: “This grant is to be held in trust for the use and benefit of Shabena (commonly spelled Shabbona locally) Indian Chief of the Potawotomie [sic] tribe and his heirs forever, the use rents and profits thereof to be enjoyed by the said Shabena and his heirs exclusively.”
The property has held a tax-exempt status since the time it was given to the chief, and was renewed as tax exempt in 1993 with the State of Illinois.
The Great Lakes Basin Railroad project would run 275 miles from La Porte, Indiana, to Milton, Wisconsin, cutting through Grundy and LaSalle counties locally. Those spearheading the effort filed paperwork in March with the federal Surface Transportation Board, which triggered a series of public hearings, called scoping meetings, and the beginnings of an environmental impact study. The last such meeting is Thursday in Seneca.
Frank Patton, founder and managing partner of Great Lakes Basin Transportation Inc., said Monday that he couldn’t comment while scoping meetings are ongoing on whether he knew the land was owned by descendants of Chief Shabbona or what he would do to avoid the area.
Patton wants to build the line to expedite freight movement by providing an interconnection for existing Class I railroads that operate in the Chicago area.
The proposed route would enter Grundy County south of South Wilmington and East Brooklyn and cut northwest of Mazon, crossing the Illinois River east of Seneca. It would enter LaSalle County for a short stretch in the unincorporated northeast corner of the county.
According to the Great Lakes Basin website, the proposed route takes into account the location of towns, residential areas, greenfield territory and the locations where interchanges with other railroads will work.
Kleinfeldt said he has also heard from other residents that there are unmarked cemeteries in the township that don’t appear on any maps that may end up in the path of the railroad.
“I know there is a Norman Township Cemetery, but I’m not sure where it is and I think it’s overgrown now,” he said. “One farmer said there are headstones behind his house that are knocked over and some have been moved. I think that is the Norman Cemetery.”
Residents come together to fight the railroad
Local residents against the building of the railroad have formed a group called Grundy County Against the GLB RR. The have made signs, created a Facebook page to get information out, and are holding meetings to explain to the public what a scoping meeting is, and how they can address their concerns.
“I went to the meeting in Manteno, and all they had was a map. There is no one there from the railroad to answer questions,” said Brad Male, who formed the Facebook page. “My biggest concern is eminent domain and safety.”
What Male feels most people aren’t aware of is the scoping meeting’s purpose is to look at environmental impacts of the proposed project. It is not a place for residents to ask questions and address concerns with Great Lakes Basin Transportation Inc.
David Navecky, an environmental protection specialist with the STB’s Environmental Analysis Office, said at the Manteno scoping meeting the goal of the gatherings is to hear from landowners so he and the office can gauge the environmental impact of the project.
Male said he hopes others interested in keeping the railroad out of Grundy County will become involved with the group, which has more than 370 members on its Facebook page.
Eminent Domain discussed
Eminent domain also is a concern of Nick and Michelle Weber of Mazon, whose small 10-acre farm sits in the path of the proposed railroad.
Grundy County Chairman David Welter met with the Weber family and said he is against eminent domain for private corporations, but, like residents, he is in the dark on the proposed plans for the railroad to pass through Grundy County.
“I haven’t had him reach out to me or the county,” Welter said. “It’s my understanding he came two or three years ago to talk to the GEDC [Grundy Economic Development Council], but we’ve not heard from him again.”
Welter said once enough information is gathered, he will discuss it with county board members to see if they want to pass a resolution regarding the project.
Patton said he would rather deal directly with the landowners, but he would resort to eminent domain if that’s what needed to be done to complete the project.
“If a landowner is not interested in selling to us I will go to their neighbor and see if they are interested,” Patton said. “If no one is interested in selling, we will have to consider eminent domain.”
Residents are invited to file scoping comments regarding the proposed Great Lakes Basin Railroad. Comments are due by June 15. Please refer to Docket No. FD 35952 in all correspondence, including e-filings, addressed to the Board.
• Scoping comments may be submitted electronically at by clicking on the “E–FILING” link on the home page and then selecting “Environmental Comments.” Accounts are not needed to file environmental comments electronically, and comments can be typed into the text box provided or attached as a file. Anyone having difficulties with the e-filing process should call 202-245-0350.
• The public is invited to attend scoping meetings. The one closest to Grundy County is scheduled for 5:30 to 8 p.m. April 21 at Seneca High School Auditorium, 307 E. Scott St. The meetings will include an open house format for the first hour, followed by a presentation by the STB’s Office of Environmental Analysis and an opportunity for public comments and questions, STB officials said.
• Scoping comments also can be submitted by mail to: Dave Navecky, Surface Transportation Board, 395 E Street SW, Washington, DC 20423-0001, Docket No. FD 35952.
Source: Surface Transportation Board

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