MORRIS – The Surface Transportation Board (STB) in Washington, D.C. has agreed to suspend its ongoing environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to allow Great Lakes Basin Transportation (GLBT) time to complete its application to the board to seek construction and operation authority for the new rail line, according to a letter to Frank Patton, founder of the railroad from the STB.
GLBT officials made the request Dec. 1, arguing that the application would provide the Surface Transportation Board's Office of Environmental Analysis assistance with its National Environmental Policy Act review.
In an email from Susan Sack, co-founder of BlockGLB Railroad, concerns were raised by the citizens who make up the three-state opposition to the railroad.
The press release states that there are three areas of concern; The STB did not validate the reasons for the GLBT request to suspend or pause the EIS. The STB letter is unclear how long the STB is willing to suspend the NEPA review process. The letter submitted by the STB acknowledges that this temporary suspension in the EIS process "increases the burden on all stakeholders."
Those opposed to the GLBT's proposal were suspicious of the freight train line's request to put the environmental review process on hold and were disappointed to hear it had been granted.
Sack said in the release that the land and property owners are the stakeholders, even though they haven't been notified about the proposed project.
"STB staff is correct in that this increases our burden," Sack said in the release. "Many landowners feel the burden of possibility being forced to sell their land against their will,"
Mirjam Melin, co-founder of Rock the Rail said people are tremendously stressed by this and understandably so.
"GLBT has had ample time to plan for and prepare their application," Melin said in the press release. "It would seem that much of the information required for the application is the same as what would be required to put a solid business plan together."
As proposed, the Great Lakes Basin Railroad project would run 275 miles from La Porte, Indiana, to Milton, Wisconsin, and cut through Grundy County. Those spearheading the estimated $8 billion effort filed paperwork in March, 2016 with the federal Surface Transportation Board, the governmental agency responsible for approving or denying the project on its merits while examining potential environmental impacts.
Before granting the temporary suspension, officials with the STB said the environmental review process could take upward of three years, given that the proposal has generated thousands of comments to the agency's website.
In a letter dated Dec. 13, Victoria Rutson, director of the Office of Environmental Analysis, granted the temporary suspension and asked Frank Patton, GLBT's founder and managing partner, to provide a status update on Feb. 28 on the application and anything else that might delay resuming the environmental review. The status update is meant to "ensure that the suspension does not become unduly lengthy."
The application, she notes, will likely provide information that will help the accuracy of the environmental review.
"I must note, however, that stopping and starting the (environmental) review process often adds time and expense to the process and increases the burden on all stakeholders," she wrote.
GLBT will work with the federal agency to see that all the appropriate requirements are met, regardless of the time frame, Blaszak said.
"Naturally we prefer that everything go quickly and smoothly but there's no cookbook for building a 278-mile railroad around a major city," he said.
The STB letter states that once GLBT files its application with the board Rutson wrote, "OEA will resume work on determining a range of reasonable and feasible alternatives to be addressed in the environmental impact statement."
The STB will prepare a brief alternatives document for public review and comment and may have additional public scoping meetings if warranted.
Patton referred to Mike Blaszak, an attorney for GLBT, for comment. Blaszak did not return a phone call or email request before press time.