SENECA – The auditorium at Seneca High School was overflowing April 21 as hundreds of residents showed up to voice their concerns about a proposed privately funded $8 billion rail line project that, if built, would cut through Grundy County farmland.
As proposed, the Great Lakes Basin Railroad project would run 275 miles from La Porte, Indiana, to Milton, Wisconsin. Those spearheading the effort filed paperwork in March with the federal Surface Transportation Board, which triggered a series of public hearings called scoping meetings. The STB is the governmental agency responsible for approving or denying the project on its merits while examining potential environmental impacts.
While many voiced concerns over the possibility of losing prime farm land or splitting acreage on centennial farms, Grundy County board member Dick Joyce voiced a concern that many were not aware of.
“I’m highly skeptical that the company has not reached out locally,” Joyce said. “There is over 100 years of mine subsidence, or sink holes. If a tractor can go through a sink hole, what about a train?”
According to the Illinois Mine Subsidence Insurance Fund website, “Mine Subsidence means lateral or vertical ground movement caused by a failure initiated at the mine level, of man-made underground mines, including, but not limited to coal mines, clay mines, limestone mines, and fluorspar mines that directly damages residences or commercial buildings.”
Joyce said that at the southeast corner of the county, where the proposed rail line will go south of South Wilmington, there is a large documented area of mines, and many more are thought to exist that have not been documented. David Navecky, an environmental protection specialist with the STB’s Environmental Analysis Office, facilitated last week’s meeting and explained that the STB’s role in the process is to collect comments from the public, and provide the final scope of study, which he expects to be completed by late summer or fall.
Several elected officials spoke and all expressed concerns that they had not been contacted by Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc.
State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said one her biggest concerns is how quickly the project came about.
“We had no notice at all,” she said after speaking. “He talked to us years ago and discussed putting the rail line on the Illiana right-of-way. This project is different. The Illiana is dead and he has not spoke to us again.”
State Rep. John Anthony, R-Joliet, was in Springfield and was unable to attend, but had a Grundy resident read a letter from him objecting to eminent domain, which Frank Patton, founder of Great Lakes Basin Transportation, said he would use if necessary to build the rail line.
Grundy County Board Chairman David Welter has requested Patton meet with the county and residents for a look at the project and a question and answer session.
Patton said he has accepted the invitation. The Q&A session is scheduled for May 2.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Grundy County presentation on Great Lakes Basin Railroad
WHEN: May 2. A review of maps will be held from 6:30 to 7 p.m., followed by a Q&A session from 7 to 8 p.m.
WHERE: Gym at Morris Community High School, 1000 Union St. in Morris