By Jean Seegers, REPORTER


JEAN SEEGERS, PHOTO – The Herald. Kathi Jurkowski holds a map of the proposed Great Lakes Basin Rail Project route. Jurowski and her husband own a farm on Yale Bridge Road. According to Jurkowski, if the route is approved it would impact not only their farm but that of dozens of other farms and businesses, and potentially do harm to the environment and wildlife in the area.

The controversy surrounding the proposed 260 mile, multi-billion-dollar Great Lakes Basin Railroad (GLBT) alternative route continues to rage. Last September, the privately owned GLBT submitted a proposal to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) that laid out a route that would run along the west side of Rockford into Rock, Winnebago, Ogle and Lee counties instead of Boone County as was originally proposed last spring. According to the GLBT, the reason for building the railroad is to relieve congestion in and around Chicago, improve capacity, safety and the environment, and increase revenue. The route will begin in Northern Indiana wind its way north through Illinois, cross I-90 and end in Milton, Wis.

In a Natural Land Institute newsletter article addressing the issue, Executive Director Kerry Leigh said NLI is concerned about the siting and scope of the project. According to Leigh, the project would have a direct impact on the regions streams, surface and groundwater quality. Meridian Road is in the proposed route. The largest aquifer in Winnebago County is located in the area. “The (rail) route could create a loss of habitat and increased fragmentation and impact on endangered and threatened species as well as the extensive taking of production farmland,” Leigh said.

Groups of concerned citizens like farm owners Jerry and Kathi Jurkowski, who own a farm on Yale Bridge Road, have come together to protest the proposed railroad route. Jurkowski is worried that the freight trains could be carrying hazardous materials. “We are in limbo right now.  Nobody knows what is going to happen.” Eminent Domain laws allow the government to take private property and convert it for public use. The government must provide just compensation.

“They would be taking 200 feet of our land. They pay for the strip, not the house or farmland,” Jurkowski said. “Our farm is very close to where they want to route the trains,” said another Rockton resident, Jerri Noller who lives on Shirland Road. “At a recent forum in Beloit, we were told that Eminent Domain laws are decided state by state. We also learned that the rail outline that has been drafted was done over 100 years ago and has not been updated since. During the last 100 years, many small villages and farms have been established.” Noller said her group has petitioned the STB relaying their concerns. Rockton Village President Dale Adams said the Village isn’t addressing the issue at this point. “More public hearings are scheduled in Boone and surrounding counties as well as in this area. “It (the railroad) probably won’t happen in our life time.” Adams said Rockton Township and the Village of Rockton have drafted a decision to oppose the railroad.

Winnebago County Board member Jim Webster is against the proposal. Many of Webster’s constituents live in the proposed area. He has put forth a resolution opposing the railroad development. The resolution was unanimously approved by the Board. Now it seems to be a matter of wait and see.  Before the GRBT can proceed, the planned route must be approved by the Surface Transportation Board. The STB can reject the route and require the GRBT to come up with another route. Those opposed say they will continue to protest. The resolution of the railroad route lies in the hands of the STB.

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