Posted May. 13, 2016 at 12:01 AM
BELVIDERE — The Boone County Board tonight expressed opposition to the Great Lakes Basin Railroad proposal, siding with a large number of county residents who fear the project's impact on farmland and property values.
“I’d say it’s perfectly clear that the Boone County community, which is really our environment, opposes the proposed route,” County Board Chairman Bob Walberg said before announcing the board’s position.
The announcement was made during a public County Board retreat.
The board will vote Wednesday on a document outlining the county's position and offering alternative routes for the railroad.
The statement will be sent to the federal Surface Transportation Board, which has the authority to approve or reject the project, or approve it with conditions. Other affected areas, such as LaSalle County, Illinois, and Lake County, Indiana, have drafted resolutions in opposition to the project. Boone County’s statement will not be an official resolution.
The 275-mile rail line, in its current form, would cut directly through Boone County and several other communities in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana in order to provide quicker freight rail service that bypasses Chicago.
Boone board member Karl Johnson said it’s important for the county to offer clear alternatives that won’t impact the county as negatively as the current proposal.
“If we don’t offer an alternative route, and they think (Boone County) just doesn’t want it, they can just say, ‘OK, permit it the way it is,’” Johnson said.
For the past two weeks, county committees have met to discuss the potential impact of the railroad. Derailment, impact on property values, traffic issues, emergency-response delays and loss of farmland were some of the major factors cited by opponents.
“We’ve heard many of those same comments before, but this was an accumulation of all that in one session,” Walberg said after the meeting.
Sheriff Dave Ernest told the board he is opposed to the rail line.
“There really is nothing positive about the train coming (through) Boone County,” he said. “It’s not beneficial to any type of public safety. Clearly, our No. 1 concern would be our response time.”
Residents have banded together, even forming anti-railroad groups, to make sure their voices are heard. About 30 people attended Thursday’s meeting.
Scott Fowler, a resident and regular at meetings regarding the railroad, said the county’s future is at stake.
“We have to worry about future generations that grow up here and have families,” he said. “It’s not about us anymore.”