Great Lakes Basin rail plan goes through Winnebago, Ogle, Lee — - – Rockford’s News Leader

Great Lakes Basin rail plan goes through Winnebago, Ogle, Lee — excludes Boone County


Great Lakes Basin Transportation Inc. released a new route proposal Thursday.

The Great Lakes Basin Transportation (GLBT) proposal includes a route that would go through Winnebago, Ogle and Lee counties, but does not run through Boone County, as the last two proposals included.

In documents released Thursday, the company says the Rock River provides access to industrial development, does not go through any residential areas or near any schools in the route between Rockford and Janesville. 

The developer says the line would help speed up existing train routes, creating thousands of jobs and potential development.

The main change for residents in the Stateline is the route moving completely out of Boone County. The GLBT documents say the response from the public meetings held earlier this year helped them adjust its network design and create a new preferred route.

During those public hearings many residents from across Boone, Ogle and Rock counties argued the rail would cut through wetlands, hurt farmers and result in unwanted industrial development. 

Now Winnebago County farmers are voicing their opinions about the switch. It can go in the water, it can shock and kill them, it'll throw them off feed, and our production will drop.  

"This could be the end of our business," says Rockford dairy farmer Tammi Wakeley. 

Wakeley and her husband have owned a dairy farm for over 20 years.  It's been in the family for more than a century. The newly proposed train line would run just 100 feet from their barn.  She says the rain could create problems for the animals through the vibrations and stray voltage.

"It can go in the water, it can shock and kill them.  It'll throw them off feed, and our production will drop."

Brent Pollard is a fourth generation Winnebago County farmer.  He says he's skeptical of the proposal. 

"We understand, because we do ship our grain via rail, how important rail is to this country.  But is this project worth what it really costs us? Are they really in the railroad business for the long term? Or are they going to start building a railroad and then go under and all of a sudden we're going to have farmland that's gonna be scared up by a railroad that doesn't even work?"

The Great Lakes Basin Railroad says it heard similar concerns in Boone County.

"We listened to them we read their statements and this is partly in response to their positions they took," says Great Lakes Basin Transportation Attorney Mike Blaszak. 

He says the new route does a better job of dodging farmlands. 

"We feel that this is the best possible alternative for our project and it generally runs through industrial areas. And it minimizes on existing farms.  Not to say there will be no impact but there will be some."

Winnebago County Chairman Scott Christiansen says he sees a lot of economic potential in the proposal. 

"We've got our self situated very well here logistically for something like this here," says Christiansen.

But he says protecting local agriculture remains very important moving forward. 

"There's a long ways to go but the one thing we can do is make sure obviously there's plenty of opportunity for people to be heard."

In Ogle County, Chairman Kim Gourke says while people can speak up, the decision will ultimately be made by higher ups. 

"This is a process that we in the local level, the county level, are not really involved in it too much. As far as a 'yay' or 'nay'. We can express our opinions. We did so strongly during the comment period but it appears to be something that's a federal process entirely."

Click here to see the new map proposal along with the March 2016 map.

For more on the proposal, CLICK HERE. 

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