Thursday, October 20, 2016

No public hearing set yet for railroad route



No public hearing set yet for railroad route

Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2016 4:00 pm

By HILLARY GAVAN Senior staff writer | 0 comments

BELOIT — Although opposition to the Great Lakes Basin Transportation (GLBT)’s proposed rail route remains high in Rock and Winnebago counties, it’s unknown if that opposition will be taken into account by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in the form of a public hearing. As of Wednesday morning, no date had been set for a new hearing and public comment period.

According to an email from STB spokesperson Dennis Watson: “The Office of Environmental Assistance (OEA) will update the public once a range of reasonable alternatives has been defined and will invite comment from the public on those alternatives prior to issuance of the Final Scope of Study. OEA will then prepare and issue a Final Scope of Study for the preparation of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, taking into consideration all comments received.”

However, Wisconsin Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, said she’s concerned the opportunity to which the STB is referring will be a brief period for submittal of written comment and not public hearings.

“It is my contention that this new preferred route is so dramatically different from the route that was previously shared with the public, that in the interest of fairness to individuals and landowners who will be directly impacted, the STB must open a new public comment period, including a public hearing in or near the affected communities.”

However, Loudenbeck said she had some good news — the nine pages of written comments she submitted during the initial public comment period in June 2016 outlined potential impacts not just along the proposed route, but within all of eastern Rock and western Walworth counties.

“I think the STB will take those comments into consideration for the new route,” Loudenbeck said.

The letter is available at the following link:

Loudenbeck also wrote to the Surface Transportation Board requesting it re-open the public comment period on the new route on Sept. 28 along with Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, and Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville.

An anti-rail meeting held at Winnebago, Illinois, High School Tuesday attracted more than 200 people, according to Winnebago County Board member Jim Webster.

Webster said a number of people spoke including those from Boone and Ogle counties about the potential problems of the proposed rail line. Richard Beuth, president of the Winnebago/Boone County Farm Bureau, was in attendance as well as Winnebago County board member Faye Lion and Winnebago County Supervisor of Assessments Tom Walsh.

On Oct. 27, Webster said he pressed for a resolution against the railroad running through Winnebago County at the upcoming Winnebago County Board meeting to be sent to the President, federal legislators and state representatives.

“The STB is made up of three people from Washington, D.C. and are appointed by the President with the consent of the Congress,” Webster said. “Three people make a decision that can affect millions of people.”

The latest plan is for the GLBT rail line to run west of Beloit and not go through Boone County in Illinois as was originally planned. The line is proposed to extend from La Porte, Indiana, through Illinois to Milton, Wisconsin. The privately-funded $8 billion rail line is hoped relieve congestion and to allow railroads to better handle traffic from Chicago. Modern signaling and controls would allow for the movement of up to 110 trains daily, and transit times through the Chicago area would be reduced to under eight hours, as they can currently can take up to 30 hours to complete.

According to information from Great Lakes Basin, the route through Boone County was not "defeated." The railroad voluntarily found a different route to avoid some of the impacts identified by public comments in the scoping meeting and is expected to be more efficient. The amount of traffic going through Winnebago County is expected to be 8-12 trains a day, which averages out to less than one train every two hours, according to the company. Traffic impacts resulting from new crossings of low-traffic roads would be offset by reduced train frequency at roads crossing existing rail lines.

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