An attorney with GLBT filed a letter with the federal Surface Transportation Board asking for the extension Monday, the deadline for GLBT to file an alternate route to the 278-mile one that cuts through southern Lake and Porter counties as it travels from Milton, Wis., into LaPorte County.
The letter was posted to the federal agency's website Tuesday morning.
The federal agency's Office of Environmental Analysis had asked GLBT to provide an alternative route in early July, and questioned GLBT then about why it hadn't offered any alternatives or explained why other routes had been rejected.
"GLBT'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," said attorney Kathryn Kusske Floyd, with the Washington, D.C., law firm Venable. "Based on these tasks yet to be accomplished, we ask for an extension of our response to September 20, 2016."
Officials with the federal agency are considering the requested extension, said STB spokesman Dennis Watson.
The public comment period on GLBT's proposal closed July 15 and garnered more than 3,900 responses to the STB's website, but Watson said his agency will take public comment on a draft environmental impact statement, which is expected to be completed in the coming years. Those comments can include GLBT's alternate route.
GLBT's proposal, at $8 billion in private funds, would be the largest new rail line in recent times and is meant to provide a bypass for Chicago's congested rail yard and take trucks off the road. The route will have the capacity for up to 110 trains a day.
Two of the six Class I railroads expected to be served by the freight line have publicly stated they will not participate; the remaining four appear uncommitted to the project.
Several people, including a representative with the opposition group Residents Against the Invasion of Land by Eminent Domain, or RAILED, have submitted alternate routes for consideration to the STB.
"The STB original request was for us to evaluate all submissions, ours and others as well," said Frank Patton, GLBT's founder and managing partner.
During an Aug. 5 teleconference with STB officials, the minutes of which are posted on the federal agency's website for the proposal, GLBT indicated "that it will prepare a robust narrative" on how it screened route alternatives and variations.
Amy Lavalley is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.