By Adam Poulisse
Posted Aug. 31, 2016 at 9:32 PM
Updated Aug 31, 2016 at 9:54 PM
BELVIDERE — The federal Surface Transportation Board today granted Great Lakes Basin Transportation a deadline extension to submit alternative routes to the proposed 278-mile cargo rail line that would cut through prime farmland in Boone County and other communities across the Midwest.
The extension request, submitted Monday by the law firm Venable, LLP, states the rail transportation company's engineering drawings "are to be finalized the week of August 29th, and thereafter presentation maps and a narrative will be developed to accompany those materials."
The new deadline for the railroad company to submit alternative routes is Sept. 20.
The proposed route stretches 278 miles across Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana to avoid Chicago and would provide quicker transportation of goods coast to coast. It has been met with staunch opposition; in Boone County, grassroots organizations such as Citizens Against the Great Lakes Basin Railroad Project have sprung up to provide unified opposition.
Laurie Bozeman, who lives on Edson Road in Capron and is a member of the citizen organization, said prolonging a final decision by the federal transportation agency on the route is "like ripping off a Band-Aid slowly."
"Part of me wishes they would just make a decision," she said. "I'm a little hopeful by them saying they need to have alternate route, it's them saying (Great Lakes Basin Transportation) can't put it here."
The federal agency asked for alternative routes in a letter drafted July 5. It was sent after a series of scoping meetings took place in potentially affected areas. Members of the federal Surface Transportation Board attended the meetings to hear residents speak out. On April 19, hundreds of citizens packed into the Community Building Complex of Boone County to share concerns.
More than 3,500 scoping comments were collected across the region, many suggesting other alternative alignments that should be considered. Feedback will help build an environmental impact study that won't be ready for a few years.
"According to commenters, these alternative alignments could minimize some of the potential environmental impacts of GLBT's proposed rail line construction," the July 5 Surface Transportation Board letter reads. "The alternatives include using underutilized rail routes and existing transportation corridors that, in the commenters' view, could minimize impacts to farms, homes and businesses that would result from the construction of the GLBT's proposed route."
Frank Patton, CEO of Great Lakes Basin Transportation Corp., did not return calls seeking comment.
A specific number of provided alternative routes is not required, but a reasonable range of alternatives must be analyzed per the National Environmental Policy Act.
Adam Poulisse: 815-987-1344;