By Bob Balgemann


BOONE COUNTY – The seven standing committees of the Boone County Board meet at varying times during the first two weeks of each month.

One topic that will be on all of their agendas in May will be the Great Lakes Basin Railroad’s proposal to bring a rail line to the eastern side of the county, essentially in the Capron and Garden Prairie areas.

Each of those committees, comprised of five county board members, has a purpose for being. Plus, the impact the railroad could have on those purposes, such as public safety, money, health, and roads will be explored during the upcoming meetings.

Reports from each meeting will be taken to a county board retreat, now planned for 6 p.m. May 12, so that the board can take a position on the project.

The board’s position, reflecting its thoughts and those of county residents, will be forwarded to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) in Washington, D.C. That board will have the final say in approving or denying the project.

Deadline is June 15 for comments from those who attended scoping meetings sponsored by the board throughout the area affected by the project. Locally, a meeting was held April 19 in the community building. The county board plans to have its position submitted before the deadline.

Committees to take up the railroad are planning, building and zoning; finance, taxation and salaries; roads and capital improvements; administrative and legislative; health and human services; public safety; and city-county coordinating.

County board members and a few residents discussed the proposal during the board’s April 20 meeting.

It was board member Brad Stark, chairman of the roads committee, who suggested each of the committees look at the railroad plan based on its purpose for being. That idea was immediately embraced by his colleagues.

Board member Karl Johnson called for putting together “thoughts that are fact-based., then prepare a letter that is professional and fact-based, with the concerns we have as a committee.” That way the federal board “will understand that we don’t shoot from the hip,” he said.

Board Chairman Bob Walberg thought the next step should be a board retreat, during which it would take a position on the proposal. The retreat would be open to the public, but he said interaction would be among board members.

“There are a lot of possibilities other than just anger and ‘we’re opposed to it,'” he said.

Options include eliminating the Wisconsin portion of the rail line and moving the track back to Winnebago County, where it once was proposed to be located.

He said the only reason for the 55-mile stretch of track in Boone County was “to get to Wisconsin. That would cost $1 billion and the payback would be over a long period of time.”

The overall rail line was 110 miles in 2014, he said. Now it covers 278 miles and extends from Milton, Wis., to LaPorte, Ind. The primary purpose of the track is so freight train traffic can avoid Chicago.

Sherry Giesecke termed the retreat as “an excellent idea, but anything we do has to reflect what our citizens think.”

Chairman Walberg said the position developed May 12 would be “a clear consensus of where we stand.”

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