MORRIS – Grundy County residents who attended Monday night’s meeting at Morris Community High School to hear Great Lakes Basin Railroad co-founder Frank Patton about the privately funded railroad he wants to build left the meeting with several unanswered questions.
“I appreciate the community attending and we tried to allow a forum where their questions could be answered,” Grundy County Chairman David Welter said Tuesday morning. “A lot walked away more insulted than when they first came in.”
After the hourlong question-and-answer session, several residents approached the table where Patton sat with Lee Hutchins Jr., director at AECOM, during the meeting to answer the questions read by moderator Anne Heinze Silvis from the University of Illinois Extension.
As a Gardner resident yelled from the other side of the table at Patton, it appeared there were no more answers to be had.
During the meeting, the crowd responded, quite loudly at times, to responses about the proposed private railroad project planned to run 275 miles from La Porte, Indiana, to Milton, Wisconsin. As proposed, it would cut through Grundy County.
Many in attendance were farmers, and they wanted to know who would be responsible for changes to their land. They wanted to know where the track would pass through, if damage would be incurred to their field tiles and if their water supply would be affected, as well as how they would gain access to the land-locked parcels that would be created by the proposed rail line.
Patton said the railroad would be responsible for creating a crossing for the farmer to get from a main field to a land-locked field, and that if he interrupted their water supply or negatively affected wetlands and drainage, he would not get the permit to build the railroad.
The crowd erupted in cheers and clapped at the thought of the railroad not being approved.
The answers to several questions Patton was asked was that he couldn’t discuss them because of nondisclosure agreements. That answer was often met with disgruntled commentary from the audience.
Those questions asked often asked for specifics of where the money for the proposed $8 billion project was coming from. Patton responded that he had been discussing the project for three years and he could not disclose those who may be financing the project. He had similar responses to questions about which Class 1 railroads he has commitments from.
“Fifty percent of the questions he never answered,” said Jack Schroeder of Morris. “I understand the ones that pertain to nondisclosure, but most of the other ones he deflected to the guy sitting next to him. If he is not qualified to address the concerns of the county, why is he here?”
Patton said in response to several questions that he didn’t currently have the answer to, and he wouldn’t have any answers, until the final route was proposed.
The current proposed route could be adjusted by several miles in either direction after the federal Surface Transportation Board – the governmental agency responsible for approving or denying the project on its merits while examining potential environmental impacts – completes its report, which is expected to be by late summer or early fall.
Grundy County Administrator Doug Pryor said Tuesday that he was excited to see so many people come out and participate in the process.
“As an administrator, I’m happy to see so many board members and residents being involved,” Pryor said.
He said the moderator was spectacular in getting to as many questions as possible asked in the short amount of time they had.
Welter said he will continue to seek answers to the questions that were not addressed.