Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Milton, IN opposes controversial rail line

MILTON—Milton has joined the growing number of Rock County municipalities that oppose a proposed rail line that would stretch from Milton to Indiana, running south around Chicago.

Milton City Council members Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution opposing the Great Lakes Basin Rail Line project, which would cut through hundreds of acres of land, most of it farmland, in Rock County alone.

Most of the county's 20 towns have passed resolutions opposing the rail line.

“It is a serious issue,” Mayor Anissa Welch said. “It affects a lot of farmland. It affects a lot of our families that live nearby us.”

At best, city council members expressed neutrality on the railroad concept.

Whether it's highways packed with trucks, the sky filled with planes or a rail line that cuts across the Midwest, products need some way to get from place to place, councilwoman Lynda Clark said.

“Commerce needs transportation, and I'm not saying I'm for this or I'm opposed to this, but it is something we the people have to think about,” she said.

Another railroad could harm the Milton House, a nationally recognized historic site, she said.

Councilman Ryan Holbrook also was on the fence on the issue. He pointed out the benefits a rail line could offer businesses and different markets, but he acknowledged the rail line wouldn't do much—if any—good for Milton.

The railroad could significantly decrease the time it takes trains to reach the East Coast. It would cost $6 billion to $8 billion and would be funded by private investors.

Councilwoman Nancy Lader wondered why the rail line would end up in developer Bill Watson's “driveway.”

“I find that very uncomfortable,” she said.

Residents have expressed concerns that Watson, who owns plenty of land near Milton, might develop gravel pits if he had a convenient way to transport the gravel.

Council members agreed there were plenty of unanswered questions and a short window of time to get them answered. The federal Surface Transportation Board is taking comments to determine municipalities' views on the rail line, but only until mid-June.

Councilman Dave Adams asked if the rail line would increase the amount of hazardous materials traveling through Milton.

It could, Fire Chief Loren Lippincott said, but he doesn't know what would be transported. Other fire departments in Illinois and Indiana have the same concerns.

“There's never been any formal plan presented to anybody in Wisconsin,” Lippincott said.

Milton already has a railroad, and no rail line official has presented a study about why another railroad is necessary, Welch said.

“I wanted Milton to have an opportunity to weigh in on this because … it could have a major impact,” she said. “There's too many questions, in my mind.”

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