Featured letter: The not-so-great Great Basin Railroad
Posted: Saturday, October 15, 2016 10:00 am
The privately funded railroad that is projected to run from Indiana, through Illinois, and up to Milton, Wisconsin is still being considered even though the proposed path up through Boone County was defeated. The newly proposed path is shown to go west of Rockford and Rockton and into Wisconsin. A map of the new route can be accessed at http://www.winnebagoboonefarmbureau.org/great-lakes-basin-rail.html.
The rail line is to be privately owned by big investors, (as yet unnamed), and can best be described as a toll road for trains. The managing partner, Frank Patton, states that it will save time in getting trains through the Chicago bottleneck. It is highly likely and believed by many to be routing oil and hazardous material through the countryside. It should be noted that Mr. Patton, the chief promoter has no experience with the most complex transportation system in the world, America’s rail network, according to Great Lakes Basin Rail: News and Views newspaper; One has to question the probability of success if the promoters have no experience in the rail business.
The rail corridor is to be 200 feet wide and includes a 50 foot wide area for future use for pipe lines, utility company use, or other profit generating means for the rail line investors. The length of the corridor has been quoted as being 244 miles, 278 miles and 260 miles. Every mile taken represents 24 acres of land taken from current owners and about 6,000 acres in total, gone. Kankakee County is opposing this venture in part because a rail port or yard taking up 15,000 acres is proposed by the promoters.
Up to 110 trains per day are projected to run on this line. This means that a train will pass by every 15 minutes. Planned speed is 70 miles per hour on a one percent grade and 1 to 3 degree turns. This means filling in wetlands near rivers and impounding water. To achieve the 70 mile per hour speed, many roads will have to be terminated at the rail line. Some of our farmland floods frequently and this will slow receding water and delay field work. Farm fields will be bisected, homes and buildings will have to be moved and some fields will be too small for present day equipment to farm.
Our farm is located less than a mile from the proposed route which would have 3 road crossings: Meridian road, Moody Road and Rockton Road, all within approximately one half mile.
My understanding is that a Federal Quick Take eminent domain action does not allow or require any local government approval. It has been requested that a new comment period to the Surface Transportation Board be opened since a new route has been proposed. If granted, property owners and concerned citizens need to provide written comments to this board.
Promoters claim that they will pay $20,000 per acre for land and grant free electricity to affected houses adjacent to the purchased land. If Federal eminent domain laws are used, you must sell your land and by law they can only pay fair market value.
Illinois has some of the most productive farmland in the United States. We can’t afford to continually remove this land from agricultural production if we expect to feed an ever growing population. Various groups lament the near extinction of snail darter fish, a desert rat, spotted owl, and other fauna. Where are they when it comes to protecting farmland?
By what logic can billionaire investors be granted approval by our Federal Government for this privately owned rail line that takes land owned for generations of families and creates financial and emotional hardship for them.
The online comment appears to be still active. Please submit comments either online at http://www.stb.dot.gov/Ect1/ecorrespondence.nsf/incoming?OpenForm or mail to: Dave Navecky, Surface Transportation Board Docket No. FD 35952, 95 E Street SW, Washington, DC 20423-0001.
Last week, over four hundred people attended an informational meeting at the Rockton Township offices to hear speakers and pick up information on this project.
Dean G. Mohring
Rockton Township Trustee