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Board decision derails Great Lakes Basin rail line

ROCKFORD – The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has rejected a proposal to build a 261-mile railroad that would have cut through eastern Lee and Ogle counties on its way through Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

In a decision Wednesday, the board said Great Lakes Basin Transportation's financial information was "fundamentally flawed," making it impossible for the board to determine whether the proposal meets necessary criteria, the Rockford Register Star reported.

Construction projects are not required to be fully funded in the early stages of an application. The financial fitness of the company behind a proposal is part of the application process, though, the board said in its decision.

The $8 billion rail system would be funded by private investors led by Frank Patton of Crete, a former software developer.

Great Lakes' assets "are so clearly deficient for purposes of constructing a 261-mile rail line that the board will not proceed with this application given the impacts on stakeholders and the demands upon board resources," the decision said.

Great Lakes may file a new application to meet the board's criteria.

"Resubmitting is an option, but we have made no decision whether we're going to do that or not," said Mike Blaszak, Great Lakes' chief legal and administrative officer, told the Register Star.

He declined further comment.

​The route would run through sparsely populated areas from Pinola, Indiana through Illinois to a point near Milton, Wisconsin, bypassing the congested Chicago rail system. The new rail lines would connect with existing Class I and short line railroads.

It would require overpasses for several interstates and four rivers, including the Rock River in Ogle County.

Opponents say the project will cut through farmland and reduce property values. Concerns also have been voiced about safety and the possible environmental impact.

Worried property owners formed several groups in Illinois and Wisconsin once they learned the controversial rail line might run through their communities. They wrote letters, attended meetings and informed neighbors.

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, applauded the decision. “I’ve received hundreds of calls, emails, and letters from folks concerned with the construction of this rail line and the potential impact it would have on their lives, homes, and lands," he said in a statement.

"I stand with my constituents in rejecting the demand, need and financial viability of this project. Additionally, this expansive route would run through IL-16 communities and would be severely detrimental to farmland across northern Illinois. The costs to our farmland outweigh any benefit from this proposed project."

In May 2016, the Lee County Board passed a resolution opposing the project.

That November, the Ogle County Board followed suit, approving a resolution, 23-1, that said its members believe “the purported gains in efficiency from the proposed rail line would be far outweighed by the negative environmental impact.”

That decision was applauded by a large group of people in the audience.

"I can’t really see any benefit to our county of this railroad,” board member Bill Welty of Chana said at the time.

The line would pass through the Ogle townships of Scott, White Rock, Lynnville, Dement, and Flagg. Plans call for one of the branches to connect with Rochelle's rail system on the city's southeast side before continuing to an Interstate 39 overpass.

Having an estimated 85 to 100 trains per day using the new tracks, which would pass through the heart of Davis Junction, a train every 13 minutes, would be "detrimental" to the village, Trustee William Luchsinger said in November.

Originally slated to run through Boone County as well, organizers of the plan moved it to the west after vehement opposition from both the county board and residents there.

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