By Bob Balgemann
BOONE COUNTY – Residents interested in or potentially affected by the proposed construction of a rail line through eastern Boone County are invited to attend a public meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 19, at Cherry Valley Fire Station No. II, located at 4919 Blackhawk Road in Rockford.
The meeting was called by the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) because the line “has the potential to result in significant environmental issues …”
Given that, Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc. (GBR) intends to file either a petition for exemption or an application seeking authority from the STB to build and operate a 278-mile rail line. The track would begin in Milton, Wis., extend through eastern Boone County and end in LaPorte, Ind. Along the way it would connect with existing Class I railroads.
With environmental impacts a possibility, the STB’s Office of Environmental Analysis (OEA) has determined an environmental impact statement (EIS) should be prepared.
Comments submitted during the eight public meetings in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, will assist the OEA in defining the range of alternatives, and potential impacts, to be considered in the environmental statement.
Each of the so-called scoping meetings will be held in an open-house format for the first hour, followed by a brief presentation by OEA. After the presentation, public comment at an open microphone will be allowed for the balance of the time.
A court reporter will transcribe those oral public comments.
Four of the eight meetings will be held in Illinois, three in Indiana and one in Wisconsin. Other nearby locations are at the Rochelle Township High School auditorium, located at 1401 Flagg Road in Rochelle, and in the cafeteria at Craig High School, located at 401 S. Randall Road in Janesville, Wis.
OEA invites written comments on the proposal to be submitted during a 60-day period that began March 18 and ends May 16. OEA will issue a final scope of study after the close of the comments portion of the process.
After issuing the final scope of study, OEA will prepare a draft environmental impact statement, which will include its preliminary recommendations for mitigation measures. One of the alternatives is that no action needs to be taken.
The public will have an opportunity to review and comment on the draft EIS, with those comments included in the final statement.
When making its decision, the Surface Transportation Board will consider the draft EIS. No dates for those steps have been publicized.
Three-part process
There are three parts to the Great Basin Railroad’s route acquisition model:
1. The dollar price rate per acre acquired for the railroad right of way is $20,000 per acre. But Frank Sutton, chief executive officer of GBR, said in a previous interviewed that acquisitions could be as minimal as 50 to 500 feet.
2. Each parcel along the right of way will have “local rail access.”
That means if the current or future property owner builds a facility next to the railroad and desires to ship by rail, or build a rail spur to connect with multiple property owners, they have the right to do so.
3. Each residential property owner will have free electricity for themselves and future family members, if title to the property remains in the original owner’s immediate family. The free electricity would be limited to one family residence.

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